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9/11 first responder was looking forward to retirement. But then came COVID-19 symptoms.

The New York City Fire Department's commissioner described him as a "a kind soul, a true gentleman, and a dedicated partner."
Image: Richard Seaberry
FDNY EMT Richard Seaberry.Courtesy FDNY

Richard Seaberry, a veteran emergency medical technician with the New York City Fire Department, was looking forward to the next chapter of his life.

Seaberry and his wife, Brynhild, were planning on retiring, selling their home in New York City and moving down to the Atlanta area to be closer to their young granddaughter.

It would have been a welcome change for Seaberry, who served as an EMT for 30 years. He was one of hundreds of first responders who rushed to ground zero on 9/11 — a scarring experience that Seaberry, who could be taciturn about his job, sometimes recounted for his wife in horrific detail.

But in early March, as the coronavirus pandemic began to take root in the United States, Seaberry became gravely ill. He started running a high fever. He lost his sense of taste and smell.

Seaberry was never officially diagnosed with COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus. But his wife is all but certain that is what took his life in the early hours of March 26, as he rested on a chair inside their house in Queens. He was 63.

In addition to his wife, he is survived by two daughters: Nadine, 35, and Camille, 31.

Seaberry is one of more than 1,000 first responders from 9/11 who have battled confirmed cases of COVID-19, according to data provided to NBC News by the World Trade Center Health Program, a federal program that provides monitoring and treatment for dozens of illnesses.

At least 24 first responders had died of COVID-19 complications as of Sept. 4, the data showed.

“For three decades, EMT Seaberry bravely served the City of New York, responding to thousands of medical emergencies. He was there so often during a New Yorker’s most desperate moments,” FDNY Commissioner Daniel A. Nigro said in a statement.

Nigro described Seaberry as "a kind soul, a true gentleman and a dedicated partner."

Nadine Seaberry, who lives in the Georgia city of Sandy Springs, remembered her father as a tireless parent, utterly devoted to his children despite the practical demands and the emotional stresses of his job on the front lines.

"He was incredibly loving, affectionate, caring. We were daddy's girls," she said in a phone interview. "He worked long hours — double and triple shifts — but he still found time for us."

She spoke fondly of their summertime outings, including warmly remembered family trips to the Splish Splash water park in Long Island. Nadine's father did not like air travel, so he sought out fun activities for his daughters in the tri-state area.

He was a consummate movie buff, Brynhild and Nadine recalled. He often saw as many as three movies on lazy Sundays — "starting with a matinee and ending with something that ended close to midnight," Nadine affectionately recalled. (He was also a big fan of "The Walking Dead.")

But when it came to his job as an EMT, he oftentimes held his thoughts close to the vest, according to his wife: "He was not a very big talker when it came to his career. He internalized a lot of things."

Every now and then, however, he would speak candidly about the nightmarish aftermath of the 9/11 attacks, describing for his wife — never his children — the brutal experience of recovering bodies from the dusty wreckage of the twin towers. He lost friends and colleagues on that awful day.

Brynhild is convinced that inhaling all that dust permanently damaged her husband's lungs. She said that her husband, a gifted tenor who once enjoyed singing with the choir at the Mount Sinai Seventh-day Adventist Church in Queens, lost much of his ability to sing in the years after 9/11.

And yet, as one longtime colleague recalled, Seaberry remained committed to his job up until virtually the end of his life.

"Everybody that worked with him viewed him as a totally reliable. No matter what you needed, he was there," said Capt. David Burke, 56, a fire department veteran who worked with Seaberry for nearly his whole career.

"He was a gentle, kind soul."