DENVER, Colo. — Paul Cary returned home on Sunday a hero.
Cary, a Colorado paramedic who traveled nearly 1,800 miles to help New York City’s overwhelmed first responders, died Thursday of COVID-19. Cary, a father of two and grandfather of four, was 66 years old.
An honor guard and a procession of emergency vehicles accompanied Cary’s body from a Staten Island funeral home and to Newark Liberty International Airport, The New York Times reported. He was flown to Denver, where another procession of emergency personnel awaited him at the airport.
According to CBS Denver, Cary’s body was accompanied to a Denver funeral home by a 2.5-mile procession that included 165 emergency vehicles and three helicopters.
The Washington Post reported that Cary was part of a fleet of 72 medics equipped with 29 private ambulances, from the company Ambulnz, that traveled March 28 to New York to aid in the crisis there. Ambulnz was part of a Federal Emergency Management Agency relief program that, according to the New York City Fire Department, brought about 500 paramedics and emergency medical technicians to the city from across the country.
The Colorado medics, who were stationed at the Bronx Zoo, were tasked with transferring COVID-19 patients from overcrowded hospitals to those with more room, authorities said. In between coronavirus-related calls, they also answered other emergency medical calls to relieve the strain on New York City’s paramedics.
Ambulnz CEO Stan Vashovsky told the Post that Cary, who was retired from the Aurora Fire Rescue, hit the ground running as soon as the Colorado crew arrived in the city.
“Paul just kept asking, ‘When are we going out in the field?’” Vashovsky told the newspaper.
Cary’s work began April 1 and he spent about three weeks working on the streets of New York. According to NBC News, he began showing COVID-19 symptoms April 20.
He had just signed up for a second 30-day deployment in New York when he fell ill, the Times reported.
Watch scenes from the procession for Paul Cary below, courtesy of the City of Aurora.
Cary was admitted to Montefiore Medical Center in the Bronx, where he ended up on a ventilator for several days before succumbing to the deadly illness that, as of Monday afternoon, had sickened more than 1.1 million people in the U.S.
The death toll in the U.S. stood Monday afternoon at more than 68,000.
New York has emerged as the epicenter of the virus in the U.S. Johns Hopkins University, which is tracking COVID-19 deaths worldwide, reported Monday that the city has recorded just over 19,000 coronavirus-related deaths since the outbreak began.
New York Mayor Bill de Blasio said Friday that in late March, when Cary and his colleagues traveled from Colorado to help, the city was receiving a volume of 911 calls that eclipsed even the number of calls received during the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attack on the World Trade Center.
“We were having the highest number of 911 calls in the history of New York City, and the disease was growing, and its impact, and lives were being lost and we needed every hand on deck,” de Blasio said. “And Paul Cary’s one of those people who came.”
Carl Smith, former deputy chief of the Aurora Fire Rescue and a longtime colleague of Cary’s, told the news station people were asking why Cary risked his own health to help others so far away.
“People have asked, ‘Why did Paul go?’ And I said, ‘That’s what Paul did,’” Smith said. “If you knew Paul, you know that.”
Ambulnz officials echoed Smith’s description of Cary.
“Paul's career is best defined by his kindness and service to others during his time as a Paramedic at Ambulnz, and before that, as a firefighter/paramedic of more than 30 years with the Aurora (Colorado) Fire Department,” Ambulnz officials said in a statement. “Paul made the ultimate sacrifice for his country and will forever be remembered as extremely dependable and completely devoted to his work.”
Cary’s family also issued a statement about his death, in which they said they are devastated by his death, CBS Denver reported. They asked for privacy so they can grieve their loss.
“Accepting Paul’s commitment to serving others in need, we respected his choice to volunteer to be part of Ambulnz’s response team to the COVID-19 crisis in New York City,” the family’s statement read. “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.”
Cary, a Colorado native, followed in the footsteps of his father, who was a Denver firefighter, his daughter-in-law, Gina Yeater-Cary, told the Post. He served with the Aurora Fire Rescue for 32 years until his 2010 retirement.
Once retired, Cary went from working as a firefighter and medic to working ambulance duty with private companies.
“He never really took a break,” she said. “I used to joke that he just went from working full-time to part-time. It’s one of those things when you have the drive and you have the heart for it, you can’t not answer it. It’s just something you have to do.”
De Blasio spoke about Cary during his daily coronavirus briefing on Friday, telling those watching that the city would hold a memorial for Cary, who the mayor said gave his life for New Yorkers.
“We have lost someone who came to our aid, to our defense, and there’s something particularly painful when someone does the right thing, (when) a fellow American comes from across the country to try and help the people in New York City and while working to save lives here, gives his own life” de Blasio said. “It’s very painful, it's heroic. It’s something we honor, but it’s very, very painful that we’ve lost this good man.”
Watch Mayor Bill de Blasio’s comments below, beginning at around the 25-minute mark.
The New York Fire Department is also mourning Cary’s death.
“Paramedic Paul Cary spent a lifetime helping and caring for others,” Fire Commissioner Daniel A. Nigro said in a statement on Facebook. “He bravely served the people of Aurora, Colorado for three decades and then, as the COVID-19 pandemic attacked our city, he bravely came to help New Yorkers as well.
“All of us in the FDNY mourn his loss.”