Thousands Mourn Firefighter Who Died Searching for Victims in Brooklyn Blaze

The 40-year-old is the department's first line-of-duty death in more than two years

Thousands of people, including friends, family and firefighters from across the nation, descended on Staten Island Thursday to mourn the FDNY veteran who died while searching for victims in a burning, cluttered apartment in a Brooklyn high-rise over the weekend. 

Lt. Gordon "Matt" Ambelas, a 14-year FDNY veteran, died from smoke inhalation and burns he suffered in the Saturday night fire on Wilson Street in Williamsburg.

Mayor de Blasio delivered a eulogy for Ambelas in a packed Staten Island church as firefighters from at least five states lined up in uniform to honor their fallen colleague.

"His life embodied the values that we New Yorkers cherish most," de Blasio said. "We admire him also because he's a teacher in the sense he showed others how to do this work the right way."

FDNY Lt. Matthew Komorowski said before the funeral that Ambelas always came in prepared and ready to work -- with a smile on his face.

Ambelas had been promoted to lieutenant 10 months ago. Throughout his career he helped the city through its darkest hours, including the recoveries following 9/11 and Sandy. Most recently, he was honored for helping rescue a child who was stuck in a rolling gate in Brooklyn

He is the fire department's first line-of-duty death in two years. The fire, which was ruled accidental, started in an air conditioner electrical cord pinched between a bed frame and a wall.

The mayor said during his eulogy that Ambelas was dedicated, hardworking, kind and, above all, a family man. 

That theme was poignantly accentuated when fire helmets from Ambelas' old commands were placed on the heads of his daughters Gabriella, 8, and Giavanna, 5. 

While "no one feels it more than the family that has suffered this loss," de Blasio said, "all members of the FDNY -- but really, all New Yorkers -- are feeling this moment with pain and sadness, because we've lost a true hero.''

The captain of his former command, Jerry Tucker, remembered Ambelas as a modest man with tremendous patience, who would help his young girls untangle fishing lines during camping trips.

In prepared remarks read by a tearful friend, his widow, Nanette, questioned just how exactly she could now live without her partner of 10 years, who was happiest with a cold Sam Adams in his hand, listening to Metallica and surrounded by his wife, daughters and friends.

"When I look at Gabbie and Gia I will see your smile," Margaret Gulliksen read from Nanette Ambelas' statement.

Firefighters from Boston, Philadelphia and St. Louis were among those who traveled great distances to salute Ameblas' casket. It was lowered from a caisson draped in a department flag and taken into a Staten Island church by pallbearers, followed by his wife and their little girls.

Afterward, the firefighters were lined up for miles as he was transported for a private burial. Bagpipers and drummers dressed in kilts and berets lead the procession, playing "America the Beautiful."

The FDNY has established an education fund for Ambelas' daughters. Donations may be mailed to:

The FDNY Foundation
9 MetroTech Center
Brooklyn, NY 11201

Checks should be made to the "Ambelas Children's Education Fund." 

Copyright AP - Associated Press
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