‘Rookie of the Year’ volunteer firefighter, 20, killed in Pineville blaze

Firefighter killed in Pineville

Investigators on the scene at Countryside Plaza in Pineville where one firefighter died fighting a fire that happened Saturday night.
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Investigators on the scene at Countryside Plaza in Pineville where one firefighter died fighting a fire that happened Saturday night.

A Pineville firefighter was killed battling a fire Saturday night at a golf store in a strip mall on Pineville-Matthews Road.

Richard Sheltra, 20, worked with the Pineville Volunteer Fire Department for three years. He was named Rookie of the Year in January, athough no longer new to the department, and was also recognized for being the member of the department who received the most hours of training last year.

“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,” Chief Michael Gerin said in a statement Sunday.

A representative reached at the Sheltra home declined to comment Sunday and said the family was asking for privacy to grieve.

The fire that claimed Sheltra’s life was reported shortly after 9 p.m. at Countryside shopping center, located at 8500 Pineville-Matthews Road. The Edwin Watts golf store, which had closed at 6 p.m. Saturday, was ablaze.

Units from the Pineville and Charlotte fire departments responded and soon reported battling dense smoke that had accumulated. The fire became a three-alarm blaze as it grew – increasing alarms indicate increasing severity. While firefighters worked to contain the fire, they found Sheltra in distress and immediately removed him from the building, according to a report from the Pineville VFD.

A Mecklenburg EMS ambulance was already on scene and took Sheltra to Carolinas Medical Center, where he was pronounced dead, the report said.

The nature of Sheltra’s injuries has not been fully determined, said Bill Suthard, a spokesman for the Huntersville Fire Department who spent part of the day helping out in Pineville. Suthard could not say whether Sheltra was overcome by smoke or otherwise injured.

An investigation into the cause of the fire is continuing, led by the Mecklenburg County Fire Marshal’s office.

Two other Pineville firefighters were injured, but their injuries were not life-threatening, Suthard said. One was treated at the scene. A second was taken to Carolinas Medical Center and later released.

Sheltra’s death appears to be the first loss of a firefighter to a fire in Mecklenburg County since 2002. That’s when Josh Earley, a 23-year-old from Midland, died of injuries sustained while fighting a house fire in eastern Mecklenburg with the Harrisburg Volunteer Fire Department. He was serving with that department on an off day from his full-time job at Station 27 with the Charlotte Fire Department.

On Sunday, firefighters from neighboring departments – Charlotte, York and Lancaster as well as the North Carolina State Firemen’s Association – turned out to offer support and manpower as firefighters in Pineville grieved, Suthard said.

“We have had people in and out of this office all day and since last night – quite a few,” Suthard said. “Mecklenburg County firefighters have either reached out or arrived here. There is food here. It’s what we call the brotherhood.”

A fire truck in front of the Pineville VFD’s building was covered in notes and flowers as a memorial to Sheltra. Members of the community also used social media to deliver prayers and condolences.

“Fallen hero Richard Sheltra … heroes among us,” said a Facebook post from Chip Wilson of Iron Station. “God bless this soul and peace to the hearts of the family. Only 20 years old. Thank you for heroics sir!!!”

Sheltra is survived by his parents and a sister. A memorial service with fire department honors is being planned, the fire department’s statement said.

Areas around the store remained blocked off by tape much of Sunday, and the rest of the shopping center was closed. Some stores, such as an adjacent Family Dollar, had sustained water damage. A mobile command center vehicle was brought in Sunday, in part to give the investigators shelter from the rain, Suthard said.

By Sunday afternoon, investigators were still walking in and out of the store. Inside the darkened building, racks of brightly colored golf shirts, golf bags and other merchandise could be seen. Outside, red and orange firefighting hoses lay tangled. At the back of the store, a Charlotte fire truck ladder was extended to the store’s roof, which firefighters appeared to be examining.

The local fire investigation task force also includes the Charlotte Fire Department, the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, Suthard said.

An employee standing outside the golf store Sunday afternoon said investigators hadn’t told them yet what might have caused the fire.

The Pineville Edwin Watts store is listed on the company website as the sole Charlotte-area location. Two other local stores closed in 2013 as a result of the Santa Ana, Calif.-based specialty retailer’s bankruptcy.

Kevin Brown store supervisor for The Salvation Army store talks about the firefighter who died fighting Saturday night's fire at Edwin Watts Golf store in Pineville.

Steve Lyttle contributed.