Relatives of Richard Sheltra and an extended family of fellow servicemen and women from across the region will bid the fallen Pineville volunteer firefighter farewell at a Saturday service.
The noon funeral will be at Forest Hill Church’s SouthPark campus, 7224 Park Road in south Charlotte. The ceremony is open to the public, a church official said.
On that day, Sheltra, 20, is expected to receive “full honors” from the brotherhood that had always been so much a part of his life. For the past three years, he was a volunteer firefighter in Pineville.
How those honors will be bestowed upon him will take into account the family’s wishes, said Mecklenburg County Assistant Fire Marshal Mike Petleski.
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Born June 2, 1995, Sheltra grew up with a firefighter in the home. Michael Sheltra, his dad, was at one time chief of Carmel Volunteer Fire Department, which merged with Carolina Fire Department in south Charlotte in the 1990s. The elder Sheltra served as assistant chief after the merger, according to Glenn Golding, the current chief.
A post on a gofundme.com page set up to accept donations for the Sheltra family says he was working to become a firefighter in Charlotte.
Last Saturday, Sheltra – Pineville’s Rookie of the Year firefighter in 2015 – was on the crew called to a fire at the Edwin Watts golf store shortly after 9 p.m., according to the Mecklenburg County Fire Marshal’s Office.
At one point, the team working at the scene reported that Sheltra was lost in the building but was on his way out, according to an audio recording of communications at the scene.
The recording, which has several unintelligible exchanges between firefighters, appears to capture the following: “Sheltra did not make it out of the building yet. He’s coming now. He got lost. Make sure he gets out of the building.”
Minutes later he was pulled from the structure and was pronounced dead at 10:22 p.m. after being taken to Carolinas Medical Center, fire officials said Monday. One other firefighter was treated at the scene. A third was taken to Carolinas Medical Center and later released. Their names have not been released.
He died from “inhalation (of) products of combustion.” while battling the blaze that began after lightning struck Countryside shopping center, at 8500 Pineville-Matthews Road, officials said at a news conference Monday.
The Mecklenburg County Fire Marshal’s Office, which is leading the investigation into the fire, issued a plea Tuesday for anyone who witnessed the blaze to come forward.
“Investigators are looking to identify and speak with patrons of the Outback Steakhouse, located at 8338 Pineville-Matthews Rd who may have been sitting at the patio between the hours of 8:30pm and 9:00pm,” the statement said.
The statement included a photo of dinner guests seated at an outdoor table
Investigations by multiple agencies will likely focus on the equipment Sheltra used that night, Sheltra’s training and other details.
The Nation Institute of Occupational Safety and Health is likely to be involved in determining whether Sheltra’s equipment was adequate or performed adequately to protect him from smoke and dangerous substances in it, said Mecklenburg County Assistant Fire Marshal Mike Petleski.
Even if it did, conditions inside a burning building can change quickly, creating extreme conditions for firefighters, said Tim Bradley, executive director of the North Carolina State Firemen’s Association, which represents about 53,000 firefighters.
There may be no visibility inside a burning building because of heavy smoke, Bradley said. If a beam falls or fire causes a door to close, finding a way out can become more difficult.
“There are hundreds and hundreds of variables,” said Bradley, a firefighter for 41 years and assistant state fire marshal for many years. “The firefighters that we lose are often very well-trained and very well-equipped. They can get caught in a situation that is unpredictable.”
Roughly 1,900 firefighters have died while on duty from 2000 to 2014. Of those, 44 percent were volunteer firefighters like Sheltra, according to data from the U.S. Fire Administration.
About 215 volunteers died while on-scene fighting a fire. Others died while training, responding to a call or performing other duties.
Of the volunteers who died firefighting, only three were as young or younger than the 20-year-old Sheltra.
Two 19-year-old volunteer firefighters died in 2007 – one from burns in Texas and another after being caught in a Pennsylvania building collapse.
Karen Sullivan: 704-358-5532, @Sullivan_kms
Gavin Off and Deon Roberts contributed