Chris Mertz (center) in this photo with New York firefighters. Courtesy Rancho Santa Fe Fire Protection District

A Rancho Santa Fe Fire Protection District captain has died of complications from COVID-19, the department announced Thursday.

Capt. W. Chris Mertz, a 30-year veteran of the department who responded to the World Trade Center following the 9/11 attacks and Hurricane Katrina in 2005, died Wednesday. He was 54.

“Chris and his family are the epitome of the American ideal — people who love their country and committed their lives to serving their fellow citizens,” the department said in a statement.

A husband and father of three who worked early in his career for the Federal Fire Department in San Diego and the U.S. Forest Service, Mertz was an active member of his union and an original member of San Diego Urban Search and Rescue Task Force, which responds to disasters.

Mertz’s son is a firefighter with Cal Fire San Diego and his daughters are in the U.S. Air Force, according to the fire department.

“Our hearts go out to Chris’ family,” the department said.

Mertz, who worked at the Harmony Grove Village station, “will receive full Line of Death Duty Honors,” according to the fire department, which said that donations in Mertz’s honor can be made to the Rancho Santa Fe Fire Foundation.

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