Monday, July 07, 2014
After the call came in — a fire licking the curtains in a 19th-floor bedroom window, smoke pouring into the night — the fire ladder truck from nearby Hooper Street was the first to arrive on Saturday at the Brooklyn high-rise. Out jumped Lt. Gordon Matthew Ambelas, a 14-year veteran, leading a team of four firefighters into 75 Wilson Street in Williamsburg. It seemed a routine fire, nothing out of the ordinary. Yet minutes after Lieutenant Ambelas, 40, headed into apartment 19B with two other firefighters to look for people who might be trapped, he was carried out unconscious, badly burned and on the verge of death.
A man who had made a career of rescuing people — from the World Trade Center after the Sept. 11 attacks, to the floods of Hurricane Sandy, and most recently from the clutches of a metal gate that had trapped a child — could not be saved.
As family and friends mourned the lieutenant on Sunday, the events on the 19th floor of the building in the Independence Towers remained murky. Investigators sought to determine how a blaze that did not at first appear unusual ended in the first death of a city firefighter in the line of duty in more than two years. A preliminary investigation found that it was started by an air-conditioner power cord that was “pinched” between the bed and a wall on its way to a power outlet, said Jim Long, a Fire Department spokesman.