First Posted: 7/6/2014
NEW YORK (AP) — Fire marshals were working Sunday to determine what caused a blaze that killed a lieutenant who became trapped while looking for possible victims in a burning public-housing high-rise.
Lt. Gordon Ambelas died Saturday after suffering multiple injuries while on the 19th floor of the 21-story building in the Williamsburg section of Brooklyn, officials said. He was the Fire Department of New York’s first line-of-duty death in more than two years.
“We lost a real hero tonight and our hearts are heavy,” Mayor Bill de Blasio said of the 14-year veteran of the force.
Fellow firefighters found Ambelas unconscious and carried him out of the building. They worked with emergency rescuers to try to revive him, but he died at a hospital, the mayor 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,” Fire Commissioner Daniel Nigro.
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.
Ambelas, a 40-year-old married father of two daughters from Staten Island, was among the firefighters from Ladder 119 honored last month for helping to save a 7-year-old boy 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.
Ambelas said at the time that the incident “shows that FDNY members are always ready to help others. It was great teamwork all around.”
He 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. Flames then spread to the 17th and 18th floors.
The Housing Authority said in a statement Sunday that it was working with firefighters on the investigation; the agency didn’t answer questions about what fire prevention devices might have been in the apartment.
Two other firefighters were treated at Bellevue Hospital for minor injuries. Two residents were treated at the scene for minor injuries.