PINEVILLE, NC (WBTV) - Richard Sheltra answered his last call as a firefighter Saturday night, but a family friend says the young volunteer firefighter first answered the calling years ago as a child.
"When he was yay tall, I knew then this kid wanted to be a fireman," said Jim Dedmon, who started his firefighting career as a volunteer with Carmel Fire Department.
Dedmon said that's when he knew that young Richard was on a mission.
"His dad was Chief of Carmel Volunteer Fire Dept at one point. His mom was very involved in the fire department as well. I think it was one of those things where experience taught him that this was a calling he felt he wanted to follow," Dedmon said. "Just his attitude, just his excitement and the spark in his eye that he saw when he saw a fire truck and he saw us getting our gear, getting on a truck to go on a call. You knew this kid had it in his blood already."
Not yet 21 years old, Richard Sheltra was already doing what he always wanted to do.
Pineville Fire officials said the 20-year-old had been volunteering with the fire department for three years, and earlier this year he was named Rookie of the Year.
As Sheltra put in his firefighter training hours, Hendrick Honda told WBTV that he was also working part-time for them.
Saturday night, Firefighter Sheltra's service ended.
Investigators say lightning started a fire that Sheltra went in to help put out. He needed help getting out. Fellow firefighters sounded a mayday and dragged him out of the building.
Sheltra died a short time later at the hospital.
Dedmon, who went on to spend 26 years with the Charlotte Fire Department and retired as a Captain, said he was in "disbelief, and saddened."
"It's awful in the fact I see it as a community that will not see a 20-year-old come to fruition as a young man and older man serving his community," Dedmon said. "This was an opportunity for a young man at a time when we praise athletes, musicians, whoever it is... this was a kid who came up grassroots and had so much potential and was a true hero."
Sources tell WBTV that Richard Sheltra's equipment will be checked to make sure all was well.
Those close to Sheltra said he always wanted to be a Charlotte firefighter, and sources said he had passed all the tests.
Sheltra was about to be interviewed by a Deputy Chief in Charlotte.
Dedmon said he couldn't help but think about a saying an old fire chief from the Fire Department of New York once said, that "The first act of bravery a firefighter has is when he accepts the role of firefighter."
The way Dedmon sees it, "This kid did that at a very young age, and I think that's something that's very admirable in this day and age - when we have so many kids who would rather stay at home with their parents. 'I don't want to do this. It's all about me.' This kid said 'no. It's about everyone else. And I want to be that person that serves other people.'"
Richard Sheltra evidently felt that call years ago as a child.
A spokesperson told WBTV that Hendrick Motorsports is planning on running decals on all four race cars for this weekend's race at Kansas Speedway. The decals will say:
In Loving Memory
Pineville Fire Rescue