The Legacy of Firefighters: Lt. Gordon Ambelas, FDNY

The job title “firefighter” does not does not adequately explain the work these brave men and women do. A firefighter is a rare and important person. One who doesn’t hesitate before running into a building burning so bright, it lights up the city. But, they fight more than fires. They fight every day to rescue people in all kinds of danger, from car wrecks to collapsing buildings, and everything in between. It is their duty to put themselves at risk in order to protect others. Every year, firefighters lose their lives while working to save someone else’s life. In 2012, a total of 81 men and women died in the line of duty. A firefighter is someone who takes chances. A firefighter is nothing short of a hero.

Santa Paul Fire Department firefighters in actionSanta Paul Fire Department firefighters in action

Lieutenant Gordon Ambelas from Staten Island is an example of one such firefighter killed in the line of duty. On Saturday July 5, 2014, Ambelas entered a flaming high-rise building in Brooklyn to search for people trapped inside. He made his way up to the 19th floor of the 21-story building, suffering injuries along the way. Unfortunately, Ambelas never made it back out. After becoming trapped and unreachable inside the building, Ambelas passed away from smoke inhalation.

This wasn’t the first time Lt. Ambelas made news for doing something heroic. A dedicated member of the FDNY for 14 years, he was there for the city in even the most challenging of times, including September 11, 20013. Ten months ago, Ambelas was promoted to lieutenant, and just two months before his death, he was one of the firefighters from Ladder 119 honored for helping save a seven-year-old boy who was trapped in a roll-down gate in May. It was in Lt. Ambelas’ nature to put others before himself.

Heroic FDNY firefighters on September 11, 2001FDNY firefighters on 9/11

“He died a hero — that’s how he lived,” firefighter Eric Bischoff said of his longtime colleague, friend, and former roommate. Bischoff called Ambelas “truly one of the best human beings that anyone would ever want to meet.” Lt. Ambelas’ team described him as caring, good humored, and hardworking. Lt. Matthew Komorowski said, “He would always come in prepared in his uniform, ready to work.”

Although the world will remember Lt. Ambelas as a loyal firefighter, he was more than that. He was also a committed family man.  At 40, he had been a loving husband to Nanette Russo Ambelas for nearly 10 years, and was the father of two daughters, Gabriella, age 7, and Giovanna, age 5. He loved his family very much, and the back of his prayer card reiterated this. It read, “When I am called to duty, give me the strength to save a life, and if I am to lose my life, please bless with your protecting hand my family, friends, and wife.” These were words Lt. Gordon Ambelas lived by.

Losing Ambelas from the team was tough for the fellow firefighters, but the loss affects his family at a different level. Hours after his death, his wife Nanette posted a beautiful tribute to her brave husband on Facebook saying, “I was lucky enough to call you my husband for almost 10 wonderful years… Gabriella and Giovanna had the best father in the world. I will raise our girls to make you proud. I love you.”

Firefighters like Lt. Ambelas should be recognized every day for the work they do. People with the job title of “firefighter,” are not just firefighters. They have spouses and children, families and other interests that don’t include putting themselves in danger. They save lives and change the world every day. Firefighters are heroes, and when they pass away, their legacy and the impact they make on lives should continue to be remembered, forever.

If you would like to honor the memory of Lt. Gordon Ambelas, or any other firefighter who has touched your life, please consider making a contribution to the Lt. Gordon “Matt” Ambelas Children’s Education Fund on the FDNY Foundation website. You can also share their stories and your memories of them with an Everlasting Footprint digital tribute.

About Liz Grear

Liz Greer, MFA, teaches creative writing, tutors students, and dabbles in ballroom dancing, book binding, paper making, and playing hopscotch between Chicago and New Jersey. She dreams of running a writing workshop in a prison, because she believes words can change things. Maybe not all things. But enough things.

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