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Funeral held for firefighter who died fighting Brooklyn blaze
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Nanette Ambelas grieves the death of her husband, Lt. Matthew Ambelas with her her daughters, Giovanna, 4, (l.) and Gabriella, 8. Photo by Debbie Egan-ChinLt Matthew Ambelas' daughters Giovanna and Gabriella, don their father's helmet

The two little girls wore FDNY helmets over their blond locks, with their widowed mom weeping as she wrapped each child in a heartbreaking hug.

As the shattered family marched slowly behind the flag-draped casket holding Lt. Gordon Matthew Ambelas, thousands of his firefighting brothers raised their white gloves to their foreheads in unison.

His wife, Nanette, kept her eyes masked by large dark sunglasses — but unbearable anguish showed in her face as she looked to the sky in despair.

Relatives, friends and colleagues mourned Thursday at a funeral for the lost firefighter and devoted dad — killed in a high-rise Brooklyn blaze.

“I shouldn’t be surprised your untimely passing was because you were trying to save someone,” said the eulogy written by Nanette and read by her friend Margaret Gulliksen.

“You saved me. I wish you could save me now. How am I supposed to breathe without you? Who will pick me up when I fall now?”

Lt. Matthew Ambelas' daughters, Giovanna, 4, (l.) and Gabriella, 8, don their father's helmets as their grief-stricken mom, Nanette, stands between them at Thursday's funeral.

“Boardwalk Empire” star Steve Buscemi, a former FDNY member, was among those mourning the hero, who loved the loud metal music of Metallica and Black Sabbath.

Mayor de Blasio was accompanied by Fire Commissioner Daniel Nigro, ex-FDNY head Salvatore Cassano, City Controller Scott Stringer, Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito, Public Advocate Letitia James and fire union brass.

When the emotional two-hour service inside the Church of St. Clare ended, Nanette exited flanked by adorable daughters Gabriella, 8, and Giovanna, 4.

The coffin is removed from Church of Saint Clare in Staten Island on Thursday.

FDNY Chaplain Msgr. John Delendick recounted that Ambelas called his wife from the firehouse on the night before his death with a message: “Don’t worry.”

“What a great thing to say, but it turned out there was no tomorrow,” the monsignor said. “He knew what was important and where his riches were. With Nanette, and with Gabby, and with Gia. You were his riches.”

Delendick hailed the lieutenant’s strength, leadership and humility.

“He never liked the spotlight ... He would always give credit to his people, to people who worked underneath him,” he said. “We can take Matt as a model and look at this life, and learn to imitate a lot of what he did.

“We can learn from him.”

Nanette said it was Gabriella who lifted her spirits in the dark days and hours after Ambelas, 40, was fatally injured on the 19th floor of the Independence Towers in Williamsburg.

“When I had to tell her what had happened to you, her response was, ‘Mommy, I will take care of you. Daddy was my hero,’” Nanette Ambelas wrote in her eulogy.

“Whenever I would get upset about things you would say, ‘Babe, let it go.’ But I will never let you go. You were taken too early from a family that loved and needed you.”

The widow added that she could see her late husband in the faces of the two beautiful daughters.

“When I look at Gabby and Gia, I will see your smile, your face, your tremendous heart,” she wrote. “And I will hear the noise, the joyous noise of the day to day in our home. Mr. Mom had nothing on you, Matt.”

The widow’s eulogy was delivered by Gulliksen, who had introduced Ambelas and Nanette. The couple was married 10 years ago.

Mark Bonifacio/New York Daily News Firefighters line Nelson Ave awaiting the procession after the funeral of Lt. Gordon Ambelas outside of St. Clares Church in Staten Island.

“I think when Margaret first introduced us and I reminisce to that quiet young guy in the beat-up old car,” she wrote. “Never in my wildest dreams would I have thought that was the start to a beautiful life that ended way too early.”

The touching remembrance included mention of Ambelas driving a truck with bald tires; his City Hall wedding; and his work on the Pile at Ground Zero after 9/11.

“You were a hero,” Nanette wrote. “But most importantly, you were here for me and my girls. You saved us more times than I can think. . .

“I used to always say, ‘Sleep with the angels.’ And now you are. I will never love anyone again the way that I loved you. I will be counting the time until I am in your arms again. I love you, Matt.”

The service began after the Emerald Society band, their drums wrapped in purple and black bunting, played a mournful dirge as FDNY pallbearers brought the casket inside.

Once it was over, a Fire Department helicopter hovered above as a police motorcade and a Ladder 119 truck led the procession away from the church.

“In loving memory of Lt. Gordon Ambelas,” read an inscription on the side of the firetruck.

“His life embodied the values that we as New Yorkers cherish most,” said de Blasio in his eulogy. “Our city is inspired by his courage and deeply saddened by his loss.

“All the members of the FDNY — but really all New Yorkers — are feeling this moment with pain and sadness, because we’ve lost a true hero.”

More than 6,000 firefighters were in attendance for Ambelas funeral.

“He was a warm and easygoing man,” the mayor said. “And around the firehouse, he always lent a hand. He helped when it was time to cook a meal, or do whatever was needed in support of his colleagues.”

FDNY Commissioner Nigro and Ladder Co. 81 Capt. Jerry Tucker also spoke about Ambelas in the standing-room-only church.

“He exuded professionalism and confidence,” said Nigro, who took command of the FDNY just last month. “He stood out.”

Ambelas was searching for potentially trapped victims when he wound up pinned inside the apartment last Saturday.

By the time his fellow firefighters could locate the lieutenant, he was unconscious and mortally injured. The raging blaze burned for 90 minutes before firefighters could bring it under control.

Gordon Ambelas’ wife Nanette (center) with the couple’s two daughters during the procession.

Ambelas had been searching through the mess.

The city medical examiner determined that the firefighter died of burns and smoke inhalation. Colleagues desperately performed CPR on him at the scene, and doctors tried to revive him at the Woodhull Medical Center.

Among the mourners was Abraham Gottlieb, whose son was saved by Ambelas two months ago after a freak Williamsburg accident.

“My son couldn’t sleep when he heard the rescuer who saved his life has come to an end,” said Gottlieb. “My wife, my whole family could not sleep. The hero is not here anymore.”

Only two weeks earlier, the Brooklyn dad presented Ambelas with a plaque commemorating his rescue of 7-year-old Mendy. The boy was yanked 15 feet into the air after getting caught in a roll-down security gate.

The firefighter and a colleague used the Jaws of Life tool to free the child, who was too upset to attend the service himself.

Ambelas became the first firefighter to die in the line of duty since Richard Nappi in April 2012, and the 1,144th since the FDNY’s founding in 1865.

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