"We were devastated to learn that our father and grandfather, Paul Cary, became the latest victim to die of COVID-19," Cary's family said in a statement provided to BuzzFeed News. "Our family grieves his loss, and knows that all his friends and family will miss him greatly. "
Cary died Thursday at age 66, less than two weeks after he was admitted to a hospital with symptoms of COVID-19.
Cary worked as a paramedic for Ambulnz, an ambulance service provider, in its Colorado division, the company told BuzzFeed News.
Before that, he served as a firefighter and paramedic with the Aurora, Colorado Fire Department for more than 30 years.
"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," his 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."
Cary traveled to New York City in late March and began his deployment under FEMA in the Bronx on April 1, the company said.
He was "adamant" about volunteering with Ambulnz on the front lines of the pandemic in New York, a company spokesperson told BuzzFeed News.
"He actually already had signed up for a second deployment before his death," the spokesperson said. "This is where he wanted (and demanded) to be."
Cary began showing symptoms of COVID-19 around April 20 and was admitted to Montefiore Medical Center in the Bronx on April 21, where he was eventually put on a ventilator before he died.
"Paul's career is best defined by his kindness and service to others during his time as a Paramedic at Ambulnz," the company said in the statement. "Paul made the ultimate sacrifice for his country and will forever be remembered as extremely dependable and completely devoted to his work."
New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio honored Cary during his daily coronavirus briefing Friday.
"He did not have to do it," de Blasio said of Cary's decision to volunteer. "He made the choice to come here to save lives."
De Blasio said the city will create a memorial to honor Cary and other first responders. "It just hurts that such a good man has made the ultimate sacrifice for us," he said.
The Aurora Firefighters union paid tribute to Cary in a Facebook post Thursday. "Paul ran his final alarm volunteering in NY to help fight the virus," it said. "Rest in peace brother, we'll take it from here."
Zach Loescher, a former EMT who worked with Cary in Aurora for about five years in the early 2000s, remembered him as a mentor and a friend.
"There was no stupid question. He always helped you learn," Loescher told BuzzFeed News. "He basically wanted everybody to go up to the next level, be a better EMT, firefighter, nurse. He was always open to helping any way he could."
Another former colleague, Jaymie Robles, worked with Cary since 1998 and recalled how Cary would call his kids at night to tuck them in over the phone.
"He saw me on some of my worst days, me taking people down to the morgue in the ER, he would come in and put his arm around ya," said Robles.
"Something I told his son the other day: 'There are quite a few people walking this earth because your dad was on the job,'" said Robles.
Loescher said he kept in touch with Cary via Facebook through the years, and only learned that Cary had volunteered to be sent to New York City when his son posted about his death. But Loescher said Cary's decision to serve didn't surprise him.
"That was totally Paul, even when he was a full-time firefighter with Aurora he was picking up shifts with Metro," Loescher said. "It definitely didn't surprise me at all."
Cary loved his job, Loescher said, and dedicated his life to helping those in need — including his colleagues.
"Paul was always somebody that everybody could look up to," Loescher said. "If you needed a helping hand, Paul wouldn't even question it. He had a huge heart."
Loescher said he'll remember his friend and mentor as a tireless worker who strived to make the world a better place.
"Going above and beyond for the patients — that was always Paul," Loescher said. "He wanted whatever the best was, no matter what he had to do. He always pushed the new EMT or new paramedic to be better than they were yesterday. That's something I'll always remember."
Cary is survived by two sons and four grandchildren. A memorial fund has been established by the company to provide college tuition for his grandchildren.