DENVER — A retired Colorado paramedic who died from coronavirus after volunteering to help combat the pandemic in New York City was being honored Sunday as his body was returned to Denver.
Paul Cary, 66, who worked 32 years as a firefighter paramedic in the Denver suburbs, died April 30, a month after he began working in New York. He was part of a wave of out-of-state medical technicians, doctors and nurses who came to the city to help relieve a health care system being overwhelmed by the virus.
Gov. Jared Polis said Cary had “heroically” served his community and country and traveled thousands of miles to help others.
A large procession of fire trucks, EMS and other emergency vehicles drove from the airport after Cary’s body was returned Sunday night.
“He risked his own health and safety, and stepped up to do what he could,” Polis said in a statement. “I can never express just how grateful I am for people like Paul, and all our emergency responders who are on the front lines of this virus.”
New York Mayor Bill de Blasio said in his daily news briefing Friday that he learned of Paul Cary’s death the previous day, and “it really hit me.”
“There’s something particularly painful when someone does the right thing, a fellow American comes from across the country to try and help the people of New York City and while working to save lives here gives his own life. It’s very painful. It’s heroic,” the Democrat said.
Cary, a 66-year-old grandfather who lived for decades in Aurora, Colorado, before moving to Denver, arrived in New York on April 1 as part of a wave of out-of-state medical technicians, doctors and nurses who came to the city to help relieve a health care system being overwhelmed by the virus.
Working for an ambulance company that aided the city under a Federal Emergency Management Agency contract, Cary responded from a location in the Bronx to calls ranging from patient transfers to 911 calls.
He died Thursday after falling ill about 10 days ago and entering Montefiore Medical Center, where he spent his final days on a ventilator, said Josh Weiss, a spokesman for the company, Ambulnz.
Cary worked for more than 30 years as a firefighter and paramedic in Aurora, a Denver suburb, before joining Ambulnz. He was so adamant about working in New York that he was planning to stay for a second, one-month tour before getting sick, Weiss said.
In a statement, Cary’s family said it was devastated.
“Our family grieves his loss, and knows that all his friends and family will miss him greatly,” the family said. “He risked his own health and safety to protect others and left this world a better place. We are at peace knowing that Paul did what he loved and what he believed in, right up until the very end.”
In a statement, the Aurora Firefighters Protective Association said that Cary had a passion for emergency medical services and was instrumental in helping shape their department’s service into a world-class system.
“It was not surprising to hear that Paul had volunteered and was helping those in need up to the very end,” the association said.
De Blasio said Cary no doubt saved lives before the coronavirus took his own, as it has four of the city’s emergency response workers and 10 city fire department workers in all.
“He did not have to do it. He made the choice to come here to save lives,” de Blasio said.
The mayor said a lasting memorial will be dedicated to Cary but will honor everyone who came to New York City to help.
“So many people came to help, but Paul gave his life for us and we’re going to honor him in a particular way,” he added.