Rancho Santa Fe fire captain dies of COVID-19 complications

Rancho Santa Fe fire Capt. W. Chris Mertz, yellow jacket, poses with FDNY crews in 2001 while responding to 9/11.
Rancho Santa Fe Fire Protection District Capt. W. Chris Mertz, in yellow jacket, poses with New York City Fire Department firefighters in 2001 while responding to 9/11 with California Task Force 8.
(Courtesy of Rancho Santa Fe Fire Protection District)

The Rancho Sante Fe Fire Protection District said Capt. W. Chris Mertz would receive full line-of-duty-death honors


Fire officials on Thursday night, Jan. 21, said a captain who worked 30 years for the Rancho Santa Fe Fire Protection District died from complications of COVID-19.

A statement from the district said Capt. W. Chris Mertz, who died Wednesday, Jan. 20, will receive full line-of-duty-death honors.

The 54-year-old was most recently assigned to Station 5 in Harmony Grove Village, according to the district’s statement. He is survived by his wife, Canli, his son, Garrett, who is a firefighter with Cal Fire San Diego, and his two daughters, Natalie and Roxanne, who both serve in the Air Force.

Mertz was one of the original members of the urban search-and-rescue team known as California Task Force 8, one of 28 such federal task forces that deploy to disasters across the country. As part of that team, he responded to New York City in the wake of the 9/11 attacks and to the Hurricane Katrina recovery efforts in 2005.

Mertz remained an active member of California Task Force 8 throughout his career, according to fire officials. He was also an active member of his union, the International Association of Fire Fighters Local 4349.

Before his 30-year career in Rancho Santa Fe, Mertz worked for the Federal Fire Department and U.S. Forest Service. During his time with the Forest Service, he was a member of the Laguna Hotshots, an elite hand crew based out of the Descanso Ranger District in the Cleveland National Forest.

Mertz is the second Rancho Santa Fe fire captain to die in a little more than two months. According to the Rancho Santa Fe Fire Foundation, Capt. Dale Mosby committed suicide in November after battling work-related post-traumatic stress disorder.

In a statement, fire officials said donations in Mertz’s memory can be made to the Rancho Santa Fe Fire Foundation.

— Alex Riggins is a reporter for The San Diego Union-Tribune