Staff Sgt. William Karsten, a tuba player and operations noncommissioned officer with the 10th Mountain Division Band, (right) is presented with the Army Commendation Medal by Lt. Col. Paul Shepard, a plans officer with the Directorate of Plans, Training, Mobilization and Security during a ceremony on Feb. 3 at Fort Drum. He was awarded for his quick actions during a garage fire on Shepard's property in November. (10th Mountain Division Band photo)
Staff Sgt. William Karsten, a tuba player and operations noncommissioned officer with the 10th Mountain Division Band, (right) is presented with the Army Commendation Medal by Lt. Col. Paul Shepard, a plans officer with the Directorate of Plans, Training, Mobilization and Security during a ceremony on Feb. 3 at Fort Drum. He was awarded for his quick actions during a garage fire on Shepard's property in November. (10th Mountain Division Band photo) (Photo Credit: U.S. Army) VIEW ORIGINAL

FORT DRUM, N.Y. (Feb. 5, 2021) -- Staff Sgt. William Karsten, a tuba player and operations noncommissioned officer with the 10th Mountain Division Band, had just returned home after an early morning physical training session at Fort Drum when he and his wife saw smoke coming from their neighbor’s property.

“I had just come back from PT, ate breakfast, and was at the sink getting a washcloth to clean up my youngest son from his breakfast,” Karsten said. “From the sink I could see black smoke rising up from behind my neighbor’s garage. My wife, Chara, ran outside to see what it was and she told me that Paul’s four-wheeler was on fire.”

Lt. Col. Paul Shepard, a plans officer with the Directorate of Plans, Training, Mobilization and Security, said that he had just left his Black River residence when, unbeknownst to him at the time, an all-terrain vehicle behind his garage had an electrical malfunction and caught fire.

“Chara called 911, while I threw my shoes back on and called Paul as I went out the door,” Karsten said.

The four-wheeler was engulfed in flames and the garage was starting to catch fire, so Karsten used a piece of plywood to push the ATV away.

“I could only get it about eight feet away because the tires melted off, and it wouldn’t budge any farther,” he said. “At that point, I ran back into my house and grabbed my kitchen fire extinguisher.”

Karsten attacked the flames – first with the extinguisher and then with a garden hose – until Black River Volunteer Fire Department and Fort Drum Fire Department crews arrived to subdue the fire, which had spread to the garage attic.

“At the time, I was just thinking about getting the flames knocked down as quickly as possible to keep it from spreading,” he said. “I wish I could have done more – and that I had a larger fire extinguisher! But I am thankful for such wonderful neighbors, and that I was able to help.”

Shepard, a member of the Black River fire crew, knows how critical every second is during a fire emergency.

“Staff Sgt. Karsten’s quick actions prevented the fire from being much worse,” Shepard said. “He knocked down some of the larger flames, and he physically pushed the machine away from the building and prevented the fire from spreading even more. The garage is only about 25 feet from our home. They didn’t just save our garage, they protected our home.”

Karsten said that this was his first experience using a fire extinguisher and he was glad it served its purpose. Following the incident, he immediately went online and purchased two new ones. Shepard also gave him a replacement fire extinguisher, but he said his gratitude goes far beyond that.

Shepard had a chance to thank Karsten again when the NCO was presented with the Army Commendation Medal for his actions during a ceremony Feb. 3.

“My wife, Brenna, our four children and I have known the Karsten family for years,” Shepard said. “After they moved to Black River in 2017, they quickly proved to be very friendly members of the community.”

“It is important to me that Staff Sgt. Karsten is recognized for his actions,” he continued. “This award is a small way to say thank you for his selfless service to his community, his support to his neighbor and his fellow Army family.”