Thousands of mourners have lined the streets of New York for the funeral of a fire department paramedic who was killed when a thief hit her with her own ambulance.

Yadira Arroyo, 44, died at the Jacobi Medical Center on 16 March after being struck by the vehicle that was being driven by Jose Gonzalez, 25, who is accused of stealing the vehicle while high on drugs.

Fire Commissioner Daniel Nigro paid tribute to the brave paramedic, telling the Associated Press: "Most of all, she was a hero.

"She died as one, but most importantly, she lived as one."

Arroyo had worked for the fire department for 14 years, and took her job very seriously – undertaking the dangerous role even during asthma attacks.

Mourners spilled out onto the streets outside the Bronx church where Arroyo's funeral was held, with family, friends and those she had helped over the years remembering a brave woman who loved her family.

The paramedic's son Jose Montes, 23, told AP: "My mother wasn't perfect, she was excellent. The way she inspired me, the way she lights up the whole room with her wonderful laugh.

"On top of any other lessons she showed me to make me as tough and as gentle, as wise and a curious as I am now, she taught me how to listen. Because she listened."

He told his younger siblings, including his 7-year-old brother: "Mummy's OK guys, and we're all OK, because we all have each other."

Arroyo had been responding to an emergency call of a pregnant woman in distress when the ambulance was waved down by a pedestrian and Gonzalez allegedly got into the driver's seat and mowed Arroyo down before crashing into some parked cars.

Gonzalez has been charged with murder in connection with the case, while his lawyer has claimed his client is mentally ill and hit Arroyo accidentally.