PINEVILLE, NC (WBTV) - The last year hasn't been easy for the Pineville Volunteer Fire Department.
"Every day is better and it's simply because of the support and the love of the people in the fire service and, more importantly, the Sheltra family," says Pineville Fire Chief Mike Gerin. "I don't know where I would be in life if it wasn't for the firefighters in the Pineville Fire Department and especially the Sheltras."
On April 30, 2016 lightning struck a golf store on Highway 51 and a fire started. Dozens of firefighters responded to the scene while heavy smoke filled the building.
One of the firefighters inside was 20-year-old Richard Sheltra. Sheltra later died that night.
"I think it was just all so overwhelming. I don't know that I remember one thing in particular," Gerin said.
Sheltra's death was the first time the Pineville Fire Department had lost a firefighter in the line of duty.
"Leading a fire department after a line of duty death is something that just not many people experience so it was just kind of uncharted territory," Gerin said. "It was difficult for me. I think it was difficult for all of us."
Gerin says the department hasn't made any changes in firefighting because they're still waiting for a report to tell them what, if anything, needs to be improved.
"You don't want to go in the wrong direction at 100 mph. If we decide there's a change to be made, then we want it to be meaningful and purposeful and there's a reason behind it," Gerin said. "There's still a lot of studying going on. There's still a lot of things that we are educating ourselves on - I would say - to make it better but when we do we want to make it better for the entire fire service."
Chief Gerin added, "If there is a need for change – then we want to change it for not just us, but for the entire fire service."
The Chief said even though the investigation continues on, his faith in his firefighters remain. "I am completely confident in the firefighters that were there and the decisions that were made," Gerin said.
For Chief Gerin, one of the most important tasks during the last year was keeping an eye on his firefighters.
"I think the biggest thing we had to be cognizant of is people's feelings and how they were emotionally after the event," Gerin said. "People deal with grief in different ways."
Sheltra rode engine three to the fire. Since Sheltra's death, the Chief says the department has rededicated the number on the engine of the truck to 73 in honor of Sheltra and his badge number.
Inside the fire station, there's a glass case memorial with the young firefighter's gear stating, "We continue to remember Richard. We continue to honor him."
The Richard Sheltra Memorial 10k, 5k and 1 mile fun run will he held at the Belle Johnston Community Center in Pineville Saturday morning.