Thousands of firefighters from departments across the northeast (and beyond) turned out at the funeral of Lt. Gordon “Matt” Ambelas Thursday morning in a massive show of solidarity and mourning.
The deeply moving funeral, held at St. Clare’s Church in Staten Island, was accompanied by an outdoor procession of firefighters whose ranks swelled the normally somnolent landscape, stretching down roadways and across intersections in every direction from the Church’s location.
“He always led from the front,” said Mayor de Blasio, who spoke at the service. “He lived his life as an exemplary human being.”
Last Saturday, Ambelas lost his life responding to a two-alarm fire in South Williamsburg. He was honored with a group of others for saving the life of a young boy only weeks earlier.
FDNY Commissioner Daniel Nigro remembered Ambelas as a “young lieutenant whose modesty greatly impressed me.”
Nigro promised Ambelas’s wife and children that they would remain part of the FDNY family.
Captain Jerry Tuker from Ladder Company 81 touted the fallen firefighter’s preparedness and work ethic as he readied for his role as a Lieutenant.
“He supervised even when it wasn’t his role yet. He wanted to be prepared beforehand,” Tucker said. “He was determined to uphold the tradition: to be brave, strong, humble and prepared.”
Margaret Gullickson delivered the remarks on behalf of Nanette, Ambelas’s widow. The remarks described Ambelas as an “angel walking on earth.”
“I shouldn’t be surprised that you passed trying to save someone,” Nanette’s remarks read. “Ten years with you were not enough, but you left me with the best part. Our girls. When I look at them I see your smile.”
As the procession concluded, the two daughters, Gabriella and Giovanna, were adorned with two of the firefighter’s helmets in a moving scene.
Rabbi David Niederman of the United Jewish Organizations of Williamsburg and North Brooklyn and Abraham Gotlieb, the father of the boy Ambelas helped saved only a few weeks before his death, were also in attendance.
“It is our obligation to be here, to show respect to this family,” said Rabbi Niederman. “This man shied away from any appreciation. He was so honorable. I can only hope that his wife and two children will see how highly everyone thinks of him, and that can strengthen them during this difficult time.”