Firefighter Ran Out of Air as He Searched for Survivors, Sources Say
BROOKLYN — The FDNY lieutenant who died after responding to a Williamsburg apartment fire on Saturday apparently ran out of air in his oxygen tank as he searched for possible survivors, sources told DNAinfo New York.
Lt. Gordon Ambelas, a 14-year veteran and father of two, was found without his mask on inside a Housing Authority apartment packed with boxes and junk, sources said.
Investigators believe Ambelas, 40, became disoriented in the smoke-filled apartment at 75 Wilson St., near Bedford Avenue, and then exhausted his 20-minute respirator while trying to find his way out of the cluttered apartment. He was eventually rushed to Woodhull Hospital, where he succumbed to smoke inhalation and burns.
“You can't know how easy it is to become disoriented in a fire where the smoke can be so thick you can’t see your hand in front of your face,” an FDNY veteran told “On The Inside.”
“He did not have his mask on when he was found, and we believe he must have run out of air and was trying to breathe,” another source said. “If he still had air, he would have kept trying to find his way out.”
The crowded condition of the apartment likely prevented him from leaving, sources said.
“He probably could not even get to a wall to feel his way out,” one source explained.
The apartment was home to Angel Pagan, who lived alone and was at a nearby McDonald’s when the 9:30 p.m. blaze started on Saturday. Pagan's three Yorkshire terriers died in the fire.
A pinched electrical extension cord connected to an air conditioner caused the fire, officials said.
Pagan told authorities he had complained numerous times to NYCHA that outlets in the apartment needed repairs, but nothing was done. City officials said they were investigating his claims.
Neighbors said Pagan’s apartment was a maze of electric cords and was overflowing with clutter.
Funeral services for Ambelas of Battalion 28 was scheduled for Tuesday at 10 a.m. at St. Clare’s Church at 110 Nelson Ave. on Staten Island.
His wake was set to be held Tuesday and Wednesday from 2 to 4 p.m. and from 7 to 9 p.m. at Casey McCallum Rice Funeral Home at 30 Nelson Ave.
Ambelas is the first firefighter in two years to make the ultimate sacrifice. His colleagues praised him for his leadership and compassion, and he was recently cited for his bravery in saving a child.
In a statement, relatives of the boy he helped rescue in May, Mendy Gottlieb, said Ambelas was "the savior of our child" and that they hoped his family “finds solace in the so many lives that are living on because of him.”
During his career, Ambelas was also credited with helping rescue people from the World Trade Center after the Sept. 11 terror attacks and from the floods of Hurricane Sandy.