NEW YORK (CBSNewYork/AP) –An electrical cord has been blamed for the fire that caused the death of one of New York’s Bravest.
New York firefighters were mourning the death of a 40-year-old lieutenant killed when he became trapped while looking for victims in a public-housing high-rise fire Saturday, the first to die in the line of duty in more than two years.
Lt. Gordon “Matt” Ambelas died after suffering multiple injuries while on the 19th floor of a 21-story building in the Independence Towers on Wilson Street in the Williamsburg section of Brooklyn, officials said.
A day after the fatal blaze, Angel Padan the man who lived in the apartment that caught fire, could barely talk about the tragedy.
“It’s terrible. Especially for the fire department,” he said.
Neighbors described a tense scene in the now smoke stained building.
“I saw the smoke passing through my floor like somebody rubbed a genie lamp,” neighbor Charles Gavin told CBS 2’s Don Champion.
“We lost a real hero tonight, and our hearts are heavy,” Mayor Bill de Blasio said of the 14-year veteran of the force. “I ask every New Yorker to keep the lieutenant in their prayers.”
Fire Commissioner Daniel Nigro told reporters, including 1010 WINS’ Glenn Schuck and WCBS 880’s Monica Miller, that Ambelas sustained multiple injuries after he went into an apartment on fire to look for victims. He was found unconscious inside of the apartment and was removed by fellow firefighters, de Blasio said.
“It’s a moment that we in the Fire Department all dread when we lose one of our family,” Nigro said. “But Lt. Ambelas died doing what fire officers do — leading firefighters in search for life,” Nigro said.
“Ambelas went into the apartment to search for life and did not come out, and by the time his brother firefighters found him, it was too late for him,” Nigro added.
Nigro said Sunday the fire started in an air-conditioner electrical cord pinched between a bed frame and a wall. He said the blaze has been ruled accidental.
A source told CBS 2 that the apartment where the fire started was heavily cluttered with debris and belongings, making it dangerous for responding firefighters.
Firefighters hung the memorial black and purple bunting outside Engine Co. 211 in Williamsburg on Sunday. Eric Bischoff, Ambelas’ longtime colleague, remember him as a friend and hero.
“We had a tragic fire, and Matt, true to who he is, led these men from the front with bravery,” Bischoff said Sunday. “He was unwavering in his efforts to find and save lives. He died a hero. That’s how he lived. And we will never forget him.
“Matt died last night a hero. He lived every day as a hero.”
Ambelas spent time working at Ground Zero after 9/11 and also in Superstorm Sandy’s aftermath, Schuck reported.
A line of Orthodox Jewish men stood outside the firehouse paying respect, remembering he recently saved a 7-year-old boy’s life in the neighborhood, Kosola reported. Ambelas, a married father of two daughters from Staten Island, was among the firefighters honored last month for helping to save the child who became trapped in a roll-down gate in May. The boy was pulled 15 feet off the ground when his arm and head got stuck.
“The entire community’s heartbroken and saddened,” Rabbi Lieb Glanz said.
Ambelas said at the time that the incident “shows that FDNY members are always ready to help others. It was great teamwork all around.”
It is the department’s first line of duty death since Lt. Richard A. Nappi was killed fighting a Brooklyn warehouse blaze in April 2012. Ambelas is the 18th to die since 343 firefighters perished in the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.
A police officer, Dennis Guerra, died in April after he and his partner were overcome by smoke and carbon monoxide while responding to a mattress fire on the 13th floor of a Coney Island public housing complex.
Guerra’s partner, Rosa Rodriguez, is recovering after more than a month in the hospital.
Ambelas was promoted to lieutenant 10 months ago and assigned to Battalion 28 in Brooklyn, officials said. He worked in various firehouses as part of the job and spent the last several months working in Ladder 119.
The fire broke out around 9:30 p.m. Saturday in an apartment on the 19th floor of the building that is part of the six-building Independence Towers complex owned by the New York City Housing Authority. It quickly went to a second-alarm as flames spread to the 17th and 18th floors.
“It was smoke everywhere — in the hallway, in my apartment,” one resident told Kozar. “I couldn’t breathe. I was coughing. I could not breathe for nothing. Black smoke was everywhere.”
Steven Jimenez, 15, had been returning from a cookout to his ninth-floor apartment when he saw flames in a 19th-floor window. As he waited outside, he watched as a bandaged Ambelas was carried out, he said.
“It looked scary — and it was scary that it happened in my neighborhood,” said Jimenez, who ultimately spent the night at a friend’s home.
Added witness Daniel Masri: “When the firefighter came out, I saw many EMTs working on the firefighter. He was unconscious. They’re performing CPR.”
Two other firefighters were treated at Bellevue Hospital for minor injuries. Two residents received treatment at the scene for minor injuries.
Independence Towers is owned by the New York City Housing Authority. The agency said in a statement Sunday that it was working with firefighters on the investigation and didn’t answer questions about what fire prevention devices might have been in the apartment.
On Sunday, friends and family gathered at the Ambela’s Great Kills, Staten Island home, were stunned and heartbroken by the loss of a husband, father, and firefighter.
Lt. Ambelas has left behind a wife and two young daughters. A fund has been established for their education. Checks should be made to the ‘Ambelas Children’s Education Fund’ and mailed to:
The FDNY Foundation
9 MetroTech Center
Brooklyn NY 11201
Online donations are expected to be available shortly.
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