McCrory orders flags to be flown at half-staff to honor fallen firefighter

PINEVILLE, N.C. — It’s been three days since Pineville volunteer firefighter Richard Sheltra was tragically killed in the line of duty, and many fire departments across the Carolinas and beyond are honoring him.

The Columbia Fire Training Academy posted on its Facebook page Monday after completing a drill in honor of Richard Sheltra. The post read in part, “Our goal is to bring awareness of air usage during work and air conservation in a mayday situation.”

“Any time there is a tragedy, everybody always takes a look at their practice and their procedures,” Cherryville Chief Jeff Cash said. “But mainly we're there to support the Pineville Fire Department.”

Cash is also the North Carolina Director for the National Volunteer Fire Council. The organization represents the 800,000 volunteer firefighters across the country. They fight for legislation in Washington, D.C., and offer an online academy that includes safety programs and training instruction.

“Training is so critical,” Cash said. “We do our work in very dangerous, challenging environments.”

In the past year other local departments have experienced mayday situations.

In Lancaster County, a fire captain’s helmet camera was rolling when the porch he was standing on collapsed. In Matthews, a fire lieutenant had to be pulled to safety after falling through the attic of a burning home.

Both are examples that show the dangers of being a firefighter.

Governor Pat McCrory has ordered all flags to be flown at half-staff to honor Sheltra.

The order affects all state flags at state facilities in Mecklenburg County and runs through Saturday evening.

McCrory said his heart is broken for Sheltra’s family.

Outside the Cherryville Fire Department, the U.S. flag remained at half-staff Tuesday. Cash said right now is about supporting Sheltra’s family, as well as protecting other firefighters as they continue to serve the community.

“Our goal is always for everybody to go home,” Cash said.

Preparations are underway for Sheltra’s funeral. Sheltra died of smoke inhalation while fighting a fire Saturday night at a Pineville strip mall, officials said.

A memorial service will be noon Saturday at Forest Hill Church in SouthPark.

The procession before the service will travel three miles from McEwen Funeral Service to Forest Hill Church.

The 8-mile procession after the service will bring Sheltra by the Pineville Fire Department before returning to the funeral home.

Community members have been bringing flowers, cards and other tokens to the Pineville Fire Department.

One of Sheltra’s closest friends, Derek Straub, told Channel 9 that Sheltra loved the fire service.

"That boy lived, ate and slept the fire department and that's what he wanted to do. That's what he died doing and I know he died happy because he died doing something that he loved,” Straub said.

At the Pineville department, firefighters from other departments cleaned the engine that will carry Sheltra’s casket. They’re also taking over service calls to give firefighters a chance to mourn.

Firefighters from several agencies are wearing black bands over their badges.

The family and fire officials are still working out some of the details for Sheltra’s formal firefighter funeral.

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