Smoke, fire and an AFSA Pitsenbarger Award
By Staff Sgt. Kenneth W. Norman, 97th Air Mobility Wing Public Affiars
/ Published March 27, 2018
ALTUS AIR FORCE BASE, Okla. --
Neighborly is defined as a characteristic of a good neighbor, especially helpful, friendly or kind. The actions of Tech. Sgt. Kristopher Carroll on March 23, 2017, while stationed in San Antonio, Texas, cannot be defined as anything less than neighborly and resulted in Carroll being recognized as the 2018 AETC Air Force Sergeants Association Pitsenbarger Award recipient.
The Pitsenbarger Award recognizes an Air Force enlisted member who has performed a heroic act, on or off duty, which resulted in the saving of a life or the prevention of a serious injury while placing the nominee at risk of danger.
“I had just gone out to eat with my family,” said Carroll, flight chief of dental services assigned to the 97th Medical Operations Squadron. “We were heading back home and I saw a bunch of smoke. We lived in a pretty wooded area in San Antonio … I told my wife ‘That’s not a typical brush fire’ and it was close to home. I could see through the woods about where it was at and I made the joke ‘I hope that’s not our house’ because it looked so close.”
When Carroll arrived at his home he could see the smoke coming from his neighbor’s property about 100 yards away. At first he thought his neighbors might be burning a big brush pile, but he decided to go check on it.
“We pulled up to the [neighbor’s] house, and didn’t really hear anything, but you could hear lots of popping, like it was pecans, acorns or nuts popping. It was a lot of popping for a fire and it was getting darker [outside],” said Carroll with a thick Texas accent. “I walked around to the back of the house and that is when I saw the whole backside of the house completely up in flames and I was like ‘oh shit’. So I went running around to the front door and started beating on the door and hollering to see if anyone was home and nobody answered, so I figured nobody was home.
After not getting a response at the front door of his neighbor’s house, Carroll ran back around to the backside to begin attempting to put the fire out and that is when he heard dogs barking and whining inside.
“I heard the dogs barking, so I was like ‘oh man there’s dogs, so here we go, I need to get the dogs out,’” Carroll said. “Everything just kind of clicked. I didn’t really think about any of it, other than just as it was happening, just doing things situationally … I get all the dogs out and after the last dog I saw an old man, around age seventy or so. He looked pretty bewildered and he was walking around like he was in a state of shock, so I was like ‘Let’s get you out.’”
After Carroll safely removed one of the residents of the home, he asked if anyone else was inside. The man said his son and husband were still inside. Carroll again entered the house and rescued the other two individuals inside.
After evacuating all of the occupants from the house, Carroll and another neighbor found a water hose and began to suppress the fire until the local fire department arrived.
Carroll had no intention of sharing his actions with his leadership, but it was undeniable to his Chief that something wasn’t right the next morning at work when he was supposed to be briefing their career-field functional manager.
“I went to work the next day and I had to brief our functional manger at about 7:15 a.m. I hadn’t slept at all that night,” Carroll said. “I coughed all night, my lungs burned and throat was on fire and itched from the insulation, so when I went in the next morning and I looked terrible. Our group Chief was standing out there and she asked if I was drunk. I replied, ‘No ma’am, hold up, I know this looks bad. I can’t really talk and my eyes are bloodshot. I get it, but I’m not drunk I promise. I’m not hung over. Here’s what happened’ … Then she sent me to the ER to get a breathing treatment.”
The only reason Carroll told anyone about his involvement in the fire rescue efforts was to clarify that he wasn’t hungover. Instead, Carroll had smoke inhalation from rescuing his neighbors and their pets.
“It just played out with the original intent of keeping the fire from destroying the house because I didn’t think anybody was home,” said Carroll. “Just right place, right time kind of thing and it was my neighbors, so they would have done the same thing for me, I know they would have. You can’t just let a neighbor’s house burn down to the ground.”
Carroll’s leadership in San Antonio planned to nominate him for an Airman’s Award for his actions, but it did not go through before Carroll moved to Altus AFB. When asked by his leadership here if he had any pending awards, Carroll informed them of the possibly pending Airman’s Award and upon his leadership’s inquiry, they ended up submitting him for the AETC AFSA Pitsenbarger Award.
“The award itself is phenomenal,” said Carroll. “To be considered in the same breath as Pitsenbarger, I just couldn’t help but laugh because I was so humbled … What I did wasn’t that big of a deal to me. I guess I didn’t see it being that big of a deal. I was a little beside myself. I was like that’s pretty neat.”
Now that Carroll has won the MAJCOM level AFSA Pitsenbarger Award, he is now eligible to compete at the Air Force level.
The AFSA Pitsenbarger Award is named after Airman 1st Class William H. Pitsenbarger, an Air Force pararescueman who gave his life while aiding with the evacuation and treatment of fellow soldiers who were surrounded and pinned down by the North Vietnamese in the jungle of Vietnam. Pitsenbarger posthumously received the Air Force Cross on June 30, 1966 for his heroic actions. The award was upgraded to the Medal of Honor on Dec. 8, 2000.