Fire marshal sheds light on fallen firefighter's final moments

PINEVILLE, N.C. — Fire departments across the Charlotte region are sending crews to Pineville to help respond to calls while the department grieves the loss of one of its own.

Richard Sheltra, 20, died Saturday while battling a fire at a shopping center in Pineville.

LINK: Reporter Alexa Ashwell talked to the pastor about Sheltra and his faith.

Firefighters from several agencies are wearing a black band over their badges. Many other departments are manning the Pineville station and responding to calls, so Pineville firefighters can grieve.

Sheltra’s memorial service will be noon Saturday at his family’s church, Forest Hill Church in SouthPark. During the service, a small procession of local fire apparatus will participate.

The fire marshal, who is investigating the case, said Sheltra's death was the result of inhalation of products of combustion.

"Richard Sheltra was a 20-year-old member of our fire department, who served honorably, (noble), and dedicated," Pineville Fire Chief Mike Gerin said. "In 2015 Richard was our Rookie of the Year, and recorded the most training hours. He did all of this as a volunteer member, unpaid on his own time."

Just last Saturday, Sheltra (far right) participated in the Sarcoma Stomp hosted by Chief Meteorologist Steve Udelson.

Sheltra was among a crew of Pineville firefighters battling a 3-alarm fire around 9 p.m. Saturday at the Edwin Watts golf store in the Countryside Shopping Center on Highway 51. The fire was caused by a lightning strike.

"Our fire department suffered a tragic loss," Gerin said. "On the night of April 30, the Pineville fire department was dispatched to the 8500 block of Pineville-Matthews road, sand that night we suffered a tragic loss."

Fellow firefighters found Sheltra in distress inside the building and pulled him out. He was rushed to Carolinas Medical Center in Charlotte where he was pronounced dead.

Reporter Blake Hanson listened to radio traffic from the night of the fire and said that someone said Sheltra got lost inside of the building. A mayday was declared at 9:35 p.m.

About 5 minutes later someone said, "I don't know what's wrong with him. We're dragging him out right now.”

Two other firefighters were hurt but will be OK, officials told Channel 9.

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

Crews from Mecklenburg, York and Lancaster counties are all offering manpower and support as the Pineville department mourns the death of the 20-year-old.

“We all work hard together, not only to serve our citizens of the towns we work for but also to serve each other,” Suthard said.

The community has shown an outpouring of support for Sheltra, who was recently named rookie of the year. He had been with the department for three years.

Flags were flying at half-staff at fire departments in the area, and on Sunday many in the community posted flowers and handmade cards on a fire engine outside the station.

A youth group from the church next door delivered letters to let the firefighters know they're not alone.

One of his closest friends, Dylan Straub, told Eyewitness News anchor Liz Foster on the phone, the South Mecklenburg High School graduate was training to be an EMT and was hoping for a full-time job with the Charlotte Fire Department.

“That’s one of the most selfless people I’ve ever met in my life,” Straub said. “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.”

One of Sheltra's colleagues at Hendrick said he was an “All-American kind of guy and “amazing in every way.”

Straub described Richard as an all-around great man and selfless. Saturday morning before the fire, Sheltra walked in the Sarcoma Stomp on the team of a cancer survivor.

There has also been an outpouring of support online, with many departments, including Waxhaw and Huntersville, tweeting their condolences.

“You want them to go home to their families and when they don't it hits you inside,” said Jeanne Legall, a Pineville resident.

A friend of Sheltra's posted a statement on Facebook, reflecting on the man he was. It read, in part: "He always went one step above and beyond to help the guy next to him. We lost a great man last night, and he's without a doubt one person that won't ever be replaced."

Gov. Pat McCrory told Channel 9 he plans to call the Sheltra family and offer his condolences.

FEMA keeps a detailed record of firefighters killed in the line of duty. From Jan. 1 through April 17, 20 firefighters across the country, including two in North Carolina, lost their lives.

Sheltra's death brings that number to 21 nationwide, and three in North Carolina.