Staten Island Firefighter Remembered as 'Angel Walking on Earth'
GREAT KILLS — Thousands of firefighters and mourners packed the streets of Great Kills Thursday to mourn the death of Lt. Gordon "Matt" Ambelas, who died trying to rescue survivors from a Williamsburg blaze, remembering him as an "angel walking on earth."
Friends and relatives lauded Ambelas, 40, as a hero as Mayor Bill de Blasio and other politicians joined a line of firefighters — some from as far away as Montreal — on Nelson Avenue in front of St. Clare's Church.
"We've lost a true hero," de Blasio said. "Our city is inspired by his courage and deeply saddened by his loss."
The 14-year FDNY veteran and father of two was remembered by his wife, Nanette, as a man that everybody loved, who enjoyed the simple things in life like spending time with his family and listening to his favorite bands Metallica and Black Sabbath.
"You were an angel walking on earth and everybody who knows you knew it to be true," Nanette Ambelas wrote in her eulogy, read at the Mass by friend Margaret Gulliska, who set the couple up on their first date.
"Ten years with you just wasn't enough."
Ambelas, who went by the nickname "Matt," ran out of air July 5 while searching for survivors inside a smoke-filled Williamsburg apartment that was packed with junk and boxes, sources previously told DNAinfo New York.
That final act of bravery was not out of character, according to his wife.
"I shouldn't be surprised that your untimely passing was because of you trying to save someone," Nanette Ambelas wrote. "It was who you were."
During Ambelas' time with the FDNY, he was also credited with helping rescue people on 9/11 and from the flood waters of Hurricane Sandy.
In May, Ambelas was lauded after he rescued Mendy Gottlieb, 7, who was stuck in a gate and got dragged off the ground 15-feet.
Friends said Ambelas shied away from the attention, but Gottlieb's family was grateful for his help. Mendy's father was one of the many mourners who showed up at the funeral to pay respect.
"It's very sad to stand at the funeral for the man who saved my son's life," Abraham Gottlieb said.
Co-workers who spoke at the Mass remembered Ambelas as a happy man who loved his two daughters Gabriella and Giovanna, and brightened everyone's day in the firehouse.
"Matt was either smiling or just about to smile," said Capt. Jerry Tucker, who had worked with Ambelas in Ladder 81 on Staten Island. "He made you feel good just saying hello."