Joseph Richard Shelton, 42, a battalion chief of the D.C. Fire Department who commanded the Emergency Ambulance Service, died of cancer Sunday at Georgetown University Hospital.

Chief Shelton was born in Washington and graduated from Eastern High School. He joined fire department in 1958 and was named a battalion chief and placed in charge of the ambulance service in 1976. He retired for reasons of disability on the day before he died.

Chief Shelton was one of the officials who played a role in the enactment of the Emergency Life Support Act, which sets up procedures to certify Paramedics for duty on city ambulances. Under his direction, 20 paramedics were trained and certified and two of the city's ambulances were equipped to serve as "mobile intensive care units."

Chief Shelton also was credited with speeding the process by which firemen are being replaced on the city's ambulances - all of which are operated by the fire department - by civilian personnel.

Survivors include his Wife, Jean, of the home in Huntington, Md.; five children, Joseph R. Jr., John M., Cynthia L., and Julia A., all of the home, and Sharon L. Carroll, of Waldorf, Md., and his mother, Mrs. Julia A. Oakes, also of the home.