NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) — Family, friends and colleagues packed a Staten Island funeral home Tuesday to remember a hero firefighter killed in the line of duty.
A line of firefighters paying their respects at FDNY Lt. Gordon “Matt” Ambelas‘ wake stretched out the door of the Casey McCallum Rice South Shore Funeral Home in Great Kills and into the sweltering heat, WCBS 880’s Jim Smith reported.
The 40-year-old married father of two died from smoke inhalation and burns late Saturday while searching for possible victims at the Independence Towers on Wilson Street in Williamsburg.
“Naturally, the atmosphere inside is grim, to say the least,” firefighter Eric Bischoff, Ambelas’ friend and former roommate, told reporters. “But at the same time, it’s completely uplifting for the family and for each other.
“Matt was the best of the best. Matt was the best of this department, and he would be incredibly, incredibly honored by the show of support that he’s received here today.”
As CBS 2’s Matt Kozar reported, on the back of Ambelas’ prayer card was the fireman’s prayer: “When I am called to duty, give me the strength to save a life, and if I am to lose my life, please bless with your protecting hand my family, friends and wife.”
The wake is being held Tuesday and Wednesday from 2-4 p.m. and 7-9 p.m.
The funeral is scheduled for 11 a.m. Thursday at St. Clare’s Church on Staten Island.
It’s unclear how Ambelas became trapped in the 19th-floor apartment. Investigators said there was clutter and debris inside, which hampered search and rescue efforts.
In an interview with CBS 2’s Dave Carlin, Angel Pagan, the man who lived in the apartment that caught fire, denied having too many belongings in his home.
“I’m so sorry for the family,” Pagan said.
Family and friends said Ambelas’ life of fighting fires and saving lives was constant in a stellar, decorated 14-year career.
“He would always come in prepared in his uniform, ready to work,” FDNY Lt. Matthew Komorowski recalled Tuesday.
But Ambelas’ family was what he really lived for, said those who were close to him.
Ambelas’ wife, Nanette Russo-Ambleas, posted on Facebook an emotional tribute.
“I was lucky enough to call you my husband for almost 10 wonderful years… Gabriella and Giovanna had the best father in the world. I will raise our girls to make you proud. I love you,” she wrote.
Ambelas helped the city through its darkest hours, including the recovery from the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks and Superstorm Sandy, and had been promoted to lieutenant 10 months ago.
In May, Ambelas helped save 7-year-old Mendy Gotlieb, who became trapped in a roll-down gate. The boy was pulled 15 feet off the ground when his arm and head got stuck.
A fund has been established for the education of his daughters, ages 5 and 8. Checks should be made to the “Ambelas Children’s Education Fund” and mailed to:
The FDNY Foundation
9 MetroTech Center
Brooklyn NY 11201
Ambelas was the first New York City firefighter to die in the line of duty since April 2012.
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