PINEVILLE, N.C. — A community gathered Wednesday morning to honor a volunteer firefighter who died in the line of duty last year.
Richard Sheltra was battling a fire at a golf store in April 2016 when he died of smoke inhalation.
Family and friends came together Wednesday as North Carolina Department of Transportation officials dedicated a bridge on Polk Street over Little Sugar Creek the “Richard Sheltra Bridge.”
Sheltra's mother, father and sister joined dozens of Pineville firefighters, community leaders and residents.
“Richard would be so embarrassed that all of this was happening today,” said Linay Sheltra, Richard Sheltra’s mother.
The beloved Pineville firefighter was 20 years old when he died.
He had been a volunteer firefighter for three years and was recognized as Rookie of the Year for his number of training hours.
It was an emotional ceremony for Sheltra’s family and fellow firefighters, who told Channel 9 how important the dedication is to them and what it means for them going forward.
“Naming the bridge and putting the signs up and doing all those things will allow Richard’s memory to live on outside the walls of the Pineville Fire Department, so it is such a huge honor,” Pineville Fire Chief Mike Gerin said.
Sheltra's family said the bridge naming represents more than just Richard’s honor.
“I also think it represents the honor that all of these brave men and women do every day,” said Tyler Sheltra, Richard Sheltra’s sister.
“I hope that everybody that drives across that bridge will remember our son and any other first responder that goes across,” said Richard Sheltra’s father, Mike Sheltra.
State Rep. Scott Stone and Pineville mayor Jack Edwards spent months petitioning the North Carolina Department of Transportation to approve a rare bridge naming.
“There were tears in the eyes of some board members because of what was done and a young man who never had a chance to live his life but yet was willing to give his life,” Edwards said.
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Thousands of people showed up for his funeral last year, and there are reminders of Sheltra placed throughout the fire department in his memory.
“All of our brotherhood coming together for our family and it's been great,” Linay Sheltra said.
His family and the Pineville Fire Department set up the Richard Sheltra Memorial Foundation so they could help other small fire departments raise money for equipment and education.
The Pineville fire chief said he hopes that everyone who passes over the bridge continues to remember Sheltra for years to come.
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