New York City Mourns ‘Hero’ Firefighter

FDNY lieutenant killed in high-rise fire is remembered by community as a hero
This photo taken on June 26, 2014, and released by the NYFD, shows Lt. Gordon Ambelas, who died at a hospital late Saturday night, July 5, 2014, after battling a blaze that broke out on an upper floor of a Brooklyn public-housing high-rise in New York. Two other firefighters were taken to Bellevue Hospital with minor injuries, and two civilians were treated for minor injuries at area hospitals. (AP Photo/NYFD)
Published Monday, July 7, 2014

NEW YORK (AP) — Purple and black bunting hung from the firehouse. Firefighters embraced and wiped away tears. Neighbors, grateful for the man they recently called a hero and stunned by his sudden death, stopped by to say farewell.

Sorrow permeated the New York City neighborhood Sunday where Lt. Gordon Ambelas worked, echoing from Ladder 119 and Engine Company 211 — where he heard his final call Saturday night — to the public-housing high-rise where he was overcome with smoke and flame while searching for possible victims in a cluttered apartment.

FRM/FFN: FDNY Lieutenant Fatally Injured in Brooklyn Fire

As the news spread of the fire department's first line of duty death in more than two years, fellow firefighters congregated with community leaders at the firehouse in Brooklyn's Williamsburg neighborhood to grieve together and share their remembrances.

Gallery: Brooklyn Firehouse Mourns Fallen Lieutenant

"He died a hero — that's how he lived," firefighter, friend and former roommate Eric Bischoff said. Ambelas, he said, was "truly one of the best human beings that anyone would ever want to meet."

Fire officials said Sunday that a preliminary investigation showed a pinched electrical cord in a cluttered apartment started the blaze on the 19th floor of the 21-story building. Flames quickly spread to the 17th and 18th floors. Ambelas was among the first firefighters in the building.

FRM/FFN: Cause Determined in Brooklyn Fire That Claimed FDNY Officer

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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, Mayor Bill de Blasio said.

A funeral was planned for Thursday morning at St. Clare's Church on Staten Island.

Funeral Information
Lt. Ambelas’ wake will be held at the Casey McCallum Rice Funeral home, located at 30 Nelson Ave. on Staten Island on Tuesday and Wednesday from 2-4 p.m. and 7-9 p.m.
The funeral will be held Thursday at St. Clare’s Church, located at 110 Nelson Avenue on Staten Island on Thursday.

A fund for Lt. Ambelas’ two daughters, 8 and 5, has been established. Donations can be mailed to:
The FDNY Foundation
9 MetroTech Center
Brooklyn NY 11201.

Checks should be made to the “Ambelas Children’s Education Fund” and mailed to the address above.


Ambelas, a 40-year-old married father of two daughters from Staten Island, had been promoted to lieutenant 10 months ago. Throughout a 14-year career he helped the city through its darkest hours, including the recovery from the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks and Superstorm Sandy.

In May, months after a transfer to Williamsburg, 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. Two weeks ago, the local Orthodox Jewish community honored Ambelas and his Ladder 119 comrades for their heroics.

FDNY: FDNY Members Thanked for Rescuing Brooklyn Boy

Ambelas said at the time that the incident "shows that FDNY members are always ready to help others. It was great teamwork all around."

The boy is being raised in the neighborhood's Satmar Hasidic Jewish community, and members of a local synagogue put up fliers mourning Ambelas' death on Sunday.

"The entire community's heartbroken and saddened," Rabbi Lieb Glanz said.

Mendy's family said in a statement that Ambelas was Mendy's "savior."

"He literally sacrificed his life for others," the family said. "I hope that his family finds solace in the many lives that are living on because of him. May his family have no more sorrow."

A light smell of smoke hung in the air outside the building Sunday as investigators went about their work and residents came back.

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.

Ambelas, whose fellow firefighters called him Matt, was the first New York City firefighter killed on duty since Lt. Richard A. Nappi died fighting a Brooklyn warehouse blaze in April 2012.

A police officer, Dennis Guerra, died this 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.

___

Associated Press Radio Correspondent Julie Walker contributed to this report.

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Brooklyn Firehouse Mourns Fallen Lieutenant
  • Cause Determined in Brooklyn Fire That Claimed FDNY Officer

    FDNY lieutenant killed while battling high-rise fire on 19th floor
    Firefighters comfort one another after bunting was hung in honor of Lt. Gordon Ambelas in New York, Sunday, July 6, 2014. The Fire Department of New York is mourning the death of Ambelas, who became trapped while looking for victims in a public-housing high-rise blaze, the first to die in the line of duty in more than two years. 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. (AP Photo/Seth Wenig)
    Published Sunday, July 6, 2014

    NEW YORK (AP) — A high-rise blaze that killed a fire lieutenant started in a pinched electrical cord in a cluttered apartment, fire officials said Sunday, adding that the fire had been ruled accidental.

    An air-conditioner cord was pinned between a bed frame and a wall in the 19th-floor Brooklyn apartment, where Lt. Gordon Ambelas became trapped while looking for possible victims, Fire Commissioner Daniel Nigro said in a statement as investigators probed the conflagration responsible for the Fire Department of New York's first line-of-duty death in more than two years.

    FRM/FFN: FDNY Lieutenant Fatally Injured in Brooklyn Fire

    "Though the cause and origin of the fire has been determined, the Department's investigation remains ongoing," Nigro added in a statement. A pinched electrical cord can fray or otherwise become damaged enough to spark a fire if it's near combustible items, especially if heat builds up in a tight space.

    Earlier Sunday, firefighters solemnly hung flag bunting at the Brooklyn firehouse where Ambelas had worked for the last several months of his 14-year career as residents returned to the building where he had died.

    Gallery: Brooklyn Firehouse Mourns Fallen Lieutenant

    The fire broke out around 9:30 p.m. Saturday in the apartment, near the top of a 21-story building owned by the New York City Housing Authority. Flames spread to the 17th and 18th floors.

    The apartment was crowded with belongings, making searches difficult, the Fire Department 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 said earlier Sunday.

    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, Mayor Bill de Blasio said.

    "New York City and the FDNY suffered a terrible and tragic loss," he said.

    Two other firefighters and two residents were treated for minor injuries.

    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.

    A light smell of smoke hung in the air outside the building Sunday as investigators went about their work and residents came back.

    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.

    Ambelas, whose fellow firefighters called him Matt, was the first New York City firefighter killed on duty since Lt. Richard A. Nappi was killed fighting a Brooklyn warehouse blaze in April 2012.

    FRM/FFN: FDNY Lieutenant Suffers Fatal Heart Attack at Warehouse Fire

    A police officer, Dennis Guerra, died this 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, had been promoted to lieutenant 10 months ago. He had helped the city respond to Superstorm Sandy and recover from the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, among many other emergencies, said his fellow firefighter, friend and former roommate Eric Bischoff.

    "He died a hero — that's how he lived," Bischoff said, calling Ambelas "truly one of the best human beings that anyone would ever want to meet."

    Ambelas 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."

    The boy is being raised in the neighborhood's Satmar Hasidic Jewish community, and members of a local synagogue put up fliers Sunday mourning Ambelas' death.

    "The entire community's heartbroken and saddened," Rabbi Lieb Glanz said.

    ___

    Associated Press Radio Correspondent Julie Walker contributed to this report.

    Copyright 2014 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

    Comment Now: Post Your Thoughts & Comments on This Story

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    Copyright 2013 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.
  • FDNY Lieutenant Dies during Brooklyn Fire

    FDNY Lieutenant Fatally Injured in Brooklyn Fire

    Lieutenant Gordon Ambelas suffered multiple injuries while searching for victims
    New York City firefighters work at the scene of a fire at public-housing high-rise early Sunday, July 6, 2014, in the Brooklyn borough of New York. A fire department spokesman says Lt. Gordon Ambelas died at Woodhull Medical Center late Saturday night, July 5, after he was pulled from the building unconscious. (AP Photo/John Minchillo)
    Published Sunday, July 6, 2014

    NEW YORK (AP) — The Fire Department of New York is mourning the death of a lieutenant who became trapped while looking for victims in a public-housing high-rise blaze, the first to die in the line of duty in more than two years.

    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.

    "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 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.

    "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 said.

    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 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."

    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.

    Two other firefighters were treated at Bellevue Hospital for minor injuries. Two residents received treatment at the scene for minor injuries.

    Copyright 2014 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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    New York Construction Firms Accused of Safety Inspection Scam

    Unqualified individuals signed off on various safety inspections of about 40 buildings
    JENNIFER PELTZ, Associated Press Published Thursday, July 3, 2014

    NEW YORK (AP) — Two construction safety companies dispatched cooks, hairdressers, bellhops and musicians to sign off as licensed safety experts — one of them dead — on inspections at dozens of high-rise sites, authorities said Wednesday.

    Flouting a city law that requires a private-sector site safety manager to spend at least two hours a day checking everything from ladders to firefighting pipes, the companies hired unqualified relatives and others, gave them the names of 10 safety managers and had them sign more than 400 daily safety logs at about 40 building sites, Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus R. Vance Jr. and city Department of Investigation Commissioner Mark Peters said.

    No one was physically hurt because of the scheme, but proper inspections later found blocked exits, torn safety netting and other potentially perilous lapses at some sites, the authorities said.

    Having "unqualified individuals fabricating that they inspected sites" was a disaster waiting to happen, Vance said. The case is prompting tighter oversight of safety managers' documentation.

    Avanti Building Consultants Inc., NYCB Engineering Group, Avanti leaders Richard Marini and Richard Sfraga and NYCB Vice President Kishowar Pervez pleaded not guilty Wednesday to grand larceny and other charges, as did four men accused of signing the logs.

    Pervez denies the charges and will fight them in court, said his lawyer, Marc Agnifilo. Lawyers for Avanti and the other executives declined to comment.

    Site safety managers are supposed to keep tabs on safety in between visits from city Department of Buildings inspectors, who spot-check their logs. Construction firms and building owners have to hire a safety manager at any exterior work on a building taller than 14 stories. The managers generally must have several years of experience, take courses and pass a city-administered exam, authorities said.

    "Site safety managers are an important, crucial part of making sure that large construction sites in the city of New York remain safe," Peters said.

    While site safety managers can make as much as $100 an hour, NYCB and Avanti, also known as Risk Management Agency Inc., sometimes paid their interns and runners $25 an hour to pose on paper as safety managers who were elsewhere, retired or dead, authorities said.

    "Please be extra careful looking for DoB," Marini wrote in a text message to one runner last August, using the acronym for the buildings department, according to a report by Peters' agency.

    The companies' clients didn't know they were paying for bogus inspections. One shelled out more than $412,000, Manhattan Assistant District Attorney Diana Florence said.

    Authorities said the real safety managers were largely unaware of the scam; none has been charged.

    In response to the probe, the Department of Buildings is increasing audits of site safety managers' work and qualifications, developing an electronic system that will notify site safety managers whenever their names are being used at construction sites and making some documents more fraud-resistant.

    ___

    Reach Jennifer Peltz on Twitter @jennpeltz

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    Young Boy Rescued from Fatal Buffalo House Fire

    Father of young boy dies in house fire after neighbor saves his son
    ED DRANTCH, WIVB Published Friday, June 27, 2014

    BUFFALO (WIVB TV) - Fire tore through a home on Regina Place on Buffalo's east side Thursday evening, while a father and his son were inside.

    A neighbor says he heard screams from the father and ran to see what was happening. Lewis Varner, Jr. saw the house burning and the boy at a window in the back of the house.

    Varner says he told the 5-year-old boy to jump but he wouldn’t, because he was too scared.

    “When I saw him up there, I told him, ‘Just jump! I’ll catch you!’ He was too scared; he didn’t want to do it,” he said.

    Rather than waiting for the fire department to arrive, Varner got a ladder from his garage, set it against the burning home and climbed up to the window. He says he tore the screen off and snatched the boy from the burning home.

    He said, “While the house was burning, [I] got him out, pulled him down. But I couldn’t get his father.”

    The boy was saved but his father didn’t make it out of the home alive. Fire Commissioner Garnell Whitfield says the intense flames, which neighbors saw bursting through the windows of the second floor, and the smoke prevented the 56-year-old man from escaping.

    “The father, I’m sure, risked his life to make sure his son was safe,” Whitfield said.

    Once firefighters were able to get past the flames and get inside the home, they found the man’s body in a second floor bathroom. He was brought to Erie County Medical Center, where he was pronounced dead.

    Renee Baker watched in shock. She had spoken to the man earlier on Thursday.

    “He took good care of his son. He raised his son. He took good care of his son. It’s so sad… It’s so sad,” she said.

    The boy was checked out and said to be okay, thanks to Lewis Varner.

    Whitfield said, “He absolutely put his life on the line, risked everything to save this young kid. And the kid’s alive thanks to the efforts of this neighbor.”

    But Varner said, “I don’t feel like a hero. I just helped a neighbor out.”

    Fire investigators are still working to determine the cause and source of the fire, which escalated to two alarms after it started just after 6 p.m. Thursday.

    Crews say the fire caused $125,000 damage to the building and contents. The flames also caused around $5,000 in damage to the home next door.

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    Neighbor Rescues Boy in Buffalo Fire

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