FDNY honors fallen firefighter with memorial plaque

July 13, 2015 Faraz T. Toor
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The FDNY honored fallen lieutenant Gordon Matthew Ambelas at a plaque dedication ceremony at the quarters of Engine Company 211/Ladder Company 119 in Williamsburg on Wednesday, July 1.

Lieutenant Ambelas, 40, perished in a fire on the Independence Towers’ 19th floor on Wilson Street last July.

About 200 people attended the unveiling of the memorial plaque, including Fire Commissioner Daniel Nigro, First Deputy Commissioner Robert Turner II, Chief of Department James Leonard, several deputy commissioners, and multiple union representatives.

“Today, we gather to honor Matt’s memory, one year after his death while trying to save lives at an apartment fire in Brooklyn,” Nigro said. “We dedicate this plaque in his memory, fulfilling our solemn vow that this department will never forget his service and his sacrifice.”

Lieutenant Ambelas was trapped in an apartment in the towers while the fire raged and his fellow firefighters from his ladder fought the flames.
When firefighters found Lieutenant Ambelas, he was unconscious with severe injuries. After resuscitation failed, they brought him to Woodhull Medical Center where he later succumbed to his wounds.

“It was very emotional for all of them. It was a very large attendance; people who worked with him at the time [attended], as well as people from his Staten Island company and community people,” Elisheva Zakheim, an FDNY press officer, said. “These ceremonies are always very emotional.”

According to Zakheim, when a firefighter dies in the line of duty, his or her initial company may install a plaque of its own, but the FDNY hosts a large ceremony as close to the one-year anniversary of the death as possible.

Lieutenant Ambelas spent 14 years with the FDNY—12 of them on Staten Island’s Ladder 81 and one at Manhattan’s Engine Company 28. The young boy he saved is a seven-year-old from Williamsburg, who Lieutenant Ambelas pried out from under a roll-down security gate in May 2014.

Most high-ranking FDNY officials attend plaque dedication ceremonies because it is uncommon for a firefighter to die while on the job, said Zakheim; at the time of his death, Lieutenant Ambelas was the first FDNY firefighter killed in the line of duty since Lieutenant Richard Nappi died fighting a Brooklyn warehouse blaze in April 2012.

Lieutenant Ambelas lived on Staten Island and is survived by his wife Nanette and their two children.

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