The Pineville Fire Department is expecting to get a lot of chocolate chip cookies on what would have been fallen firefighter Richard Sheltra's 22nd birthday.
June 2 has become “Cookies for Richard” day at not only his old unit, but for fire departments around the country. Last year, at least one in each of the 50 states got cookies delivered to them on that day, says Pineville Fire Chief Michael Gerin.
But before that day, Gerin’s 50 volunteer firefighters and more 800 other local people plan to honor Sheltra on April 29 with a memorial 10K, 5K, and 1 mile Fun Run/Walk. That will be a day before the first anniversary of Sheltra’s death – April 30, 2016 – while fighting a fire inside a golf shop on Highway 51.
“We expect 800 runners,” said Pineville Fire Chief Michael Gerin. “We had 300 last (September), when we did the first one.”
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The proceeds from the runs will benefit the Richard Sheltra Memorial Fund, which pays for new gear and educational expenses for first responders.
Gerin said he and his crew “think of Richard daily ... He was salt of the earth. Every fire chief’s dream. He was always participating and he treated everybody with dignity. Our priority is to continue to honor and remember him every day and support his family.”
He’d been named the department’s Rookie of the Year a few months before his death.
On Thursday, Sheltra’s parents, Mike and Linay, talked with WBTV about how they’re keeping their son’s memory alive.
Besides “Cookies for Richard,” his parents have also spent the months since his death launching the Richard Sheltra Memorial Foundation. It’s objective: to pay it forward, a mantra Richard lived by.
“His life verse was John 15:13,” Mike Sheltra said. “No greater love does one have than to lay down their life for a friend – paraphrased. What he's done through that has shown us...you know...take care of somebody else and you'll be taken care of.”
About those cookies?
Chocolate chip was Sheltra’s favorite, and his cousin came up with the idea for people to bring cookies to fire departments on his birthday. Others, including EMTs, hospitals and police departments also got some.
“We got more cookies than we could have eaten in a year,” said Gerin.
Sheltra’s family even passed out chocolate chip cookies at his funeral, said Becky Tofaute Johnson, whose husband Bob and son Zach both serve with the Pineville Fire Department.
Her son was friends with Sheltra, and both he and his father were on the scene of the 3-alarm fire that killed the then-20 year old Sheltra.
“It was pretty rough,” she said. “You expect it to be one of the old guys, not one of the new kids.”
Johnson said she’ll be forever grateful to Sheltra for being a good friend to her son, including driving him to their EMT class in Huntersville.
“Zach really looked up to him,” Johnson said. “Richard looked out for everybody. At the funeral, his cousin said, ‘He was my guardian angel.’ ”
WBTV anchor Brigida Mack contributed.
Run to honor firefighter, raise money for first resonders
The Richard Sheltra Memorial 10K, 5K and 1 Mile Fun Run will get under way at 7:30 a.m. on April 29 at the Belle Johnston Community Center, 1000 Johnston Drive in Pineville.
You can register to run or donate here.