NY Daily News – July 09, 2014
by Barry Paddock, Bill Hutchinson
With salutes and heavy hearts, New York’s Bravest began the solemn ritual Tuesday of mourning Lt. Gordon Matthew Ambelas, the “best of the best” who was killed in a ferocious Brooklyn blaze. Hundreds of firefighters in their dress blue uniforms jammed the Casey McCallum Rice Funeral Home on Staten Island for the first day of a two-day wake for the beloved father of two young girls.
A large photo of the 40-year-old Ambelas was displayed in the funeral chapel as a stream of mourners stretching out the door and down the block filed past the casket.
Ambelas’ grieving widow, Nanette, who called her husband her “everything” in a goodbye love letter she posted on Facebook, sat in the front of the chapel accepting tearful condolences and words of comfort.
Her two daughters, Gabriella, 8, and Giovanna, 4, sat next her, heartbroken and longing for their father.
“Matt would be so proud of the turnout, the amount of love that he’s received today,” said Firefigther Eric Bischoff of Ladder Co. 81 in the Bronx, where Ambelas spent most of his 14-year FDNY career.
“His wife, his two children, his extended family are so utterly moved by the camaraderie and the dedication and the support that this department has extended to him,” Bischoff said. “Matt was the best of the best.”
Ambelas died after rushing into a burning, junk-cluttered 19th-floor apartment at the Independence Towers housing project in Williamsburg to search for victims.
“In short, he was the type of person we all strive to be,” said Capt. Al Hagan, president of the Uniformed Fire Officers Association.
“His death was a harsh reminder that every time a member of the uniformed forces goes to work, he or she is in harm’s way and may not return home.”
Lt. Matthew Komorowski worked with Ambelas the past two years at Ladder Co. 119 in Williamsburg. It was supposed to be a temporary assignment for Ambelas, but his firehouse colleagues wanted him to stay on permanently, Komorowski said.
“It was immediately evident that he fit right into our firehouse,” Komorowski said. “He would always come in prepared in his uniform, ready to work. He was a great guy who always had a smile on his face. We truly love Matty Ambelas.”
Investigators said the blaze was sparked by an air conditioner electrical cord that was plugged into an overloaded extension cord and pinched between a wall and a bedframe.
The wake will continue 2-4 p.m. and 7-9 p.m. Wednesday at the funeral home. Thousands of firefighters from across the region and beyond are expected to attend Ambelas’ funeral at 11 a.m. Thursday at St. Clare’s Church in Staten Island.