20-year-old Pineville firefighter killed battling strip mall fire

PINEVILLE, N.C. — A firefighter died while battling a three-alarm fire Saturday night in a Pineville shopping center.

"The men and women of the Pineville Fire Department are in mourning," Bill Suthard, Huntersville Fire Department, said on behalf of Pineville Fire Department.

Officials identified the fallen firefighter as 20-year-old Richard Sheltra.

Pineville fire crews responded just after 9 p.m. to a fire at Edwin Watts in the Countryside Shopping Center off Pineville-Matthews Road. Charlotte fire and Mecklenburg County fire crews assisted.

Firefighters were battling a fire at a strip mall at 8500 Pineville-Matthews Road at 9:03 p.m. Saturday.

While working the fire, Sheltra was found in distress by other firefighters and was immediately removed from the building, officials said.

A Mecklenburg County emergency medical services ambulance was already at the scene and immediately provided advanced lifesaving care to Sheltra. He was taken to Carolinas Medical Center Main in Charlotte where he died.

“This is a very sad day for our department, in particular the Pineville community, as we mourn the passing of a friend, a brother and very dedicated volunteer,” Pineville Volunteer Fire Department Chief Michael Gerin said.

Sheltra served as a volunteer firefighter for three years with the Pineville Volunteer Fire Department.

"To see them having to grasp the fact that they have lost a fellow brother is very hard," Melissa Hemple said.

Two other firefighters were injured. One was treated on the scene and another was taken to the hospital, treated and released.

"We all work hard together, not only to serve our citizens of the towns we work for but also to serve each other, provide each other with those things that we need," Suthard said.

A memorial service with full fire department honors is currently being planned.

Memorial grows at Pineville Fire and Rescue 

There is a growing memorial in Pineville for Sheltra.

Sheltra was not just a 20-year-old man who made the ultimate sacrifice, he did it as a volunteer.

He had been with the department for three years and recently earned honors for “rookie of the year.”

Channel 9 reporter Alexa Ashwell watched Sunday as countless firefighters stopped by to pay their respects.

Two members of the Pineville Volunteer Fire Department embraced one another with their heads bowed, rested against a fire engine.

The engine is now covered by flowers, cards and an American flag.

Jeanne Legall brought her three grandchildren to the scene of the fire, where Sheltra lost his life Saturday night.

“You want them to go home to their families and when they don't it hits you inside,” she said.

As a former emergency medical technician, she wanted the children to understand the risk and sacrifice first responders make each day.

Her grandson made a poster that read, "Sorry for your loss. Now he's up in heaven helping people."

A youth group from a church that is next to the Pineville Fire Department hand-delivered letters to the grieving firefighters Sunday.

The pastor said it’s important that firefighters know they are not alone.

“Many times we stop in the midst of our worship/gatherings to pray as fire trucks and ambulances go by,” Zane Zielinski said.

Outside the department, at least a half dozen other departments throughout Mecklenburg County, York County and Lancaster County as well as the NC State Fire Association have been standing guard.

They are also responding to calls that come in so Pineville firefighters don’t have to and allow them to grieve the loss of one of their own.

The Huntersville Fire Department said firefighters will send crews to Pineville to cover the area.

Read our follow-up coverage on Richard Sheltra:

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