Cause of blaze that killed NYC firefighter probed

Firefighters solemnly
watch as other firefighters hang bunting over the firehouse in honor of Lt. Gordon Ambelas in New York,
Sunday, July 6, 2014. (AP Photo/Seth Wenig)

NEW YORK (AP) — Fire marshals were working Sunday to
determine what sparked a blaze that killed a lieutenant who became
trapped while looking for possible victims in a burning public-housing
Lt. Gordon Ambelas died late Saturday after suffering
multiple injuries while on the 19th floor of the 21-story building in
the Williamsburg section of Brooklyn, officials said. His was the Fire
Department of New York’s first line-of-duty death in more than two
The fire’s cause and origin had yet to be determined Sunday
afternoon, FDNY spokesman Frank Dwyer said. Fire marshals were
conducting an extensive investigation that would include examining the
physical contents of the apartment, interviewing residents and
responding firefighters, and exploring whether smoke detectors and any
other fire-safety systems were installed and working.
solemnly hung flag bunting at the Brooklyn firehouse where Ambelas had
worked for the last several months of his 14-year career.
"He died
a hero — that’s how he lived," firefighter Eric Bischoff said of his
longtime colleague, friend and former roommate, calling Ambelas "truly
one of the best human beings that anyone would ever want to meet."
light smell of smoke hung in the air outside the apartment building
where the fire had burned as investigators went about their work and
residents returned.
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.
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 spread to the 17th and 18th floors.
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.
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.
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.
is the department’s first line-of-duty death since Lt. Richard A. Nappi
was killed fighting a Brooklyn warehouse blaze in April 2012.
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
Ambelas, a 40-year-old married father of two daughters
from Staten Island, had been promoted to lieutenant 10 months ago. He
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
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 writers Julie Walker and Jennifer Peltz contributed to this report.
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