‘More than a job’ — Letter carriers receive union award for everyday acts of heroism

Giving first-aid to people in crisis, rescuing an abducted teenager, and fundraising for hospitalized children stand out as some of the selfless acts that Postal Service letter carriers have done in their communities.

The National Association of Letter Carriers last month honored six letter carriers for acts of heroism that helped save lives in their communities — in many cases, responding to emergencies while on their delivery routes.

NALC President Fredric Rolando said letter carriers are often the first ones on the scene of an emergency because they’re familiar with their neighborhood and the households on their route.

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“As letter carriers see it, what they do is more than a job — it’s a career in public service,” Rolando said Oct. 30 at the union’s annual Hero of the Year award ceremony.

The union often hears about these acts of heroism secondhand — often from local emergency personnel or from people offering a word of thanks at their local post office — but rarely from the letter carriers who came to the rescue.

“We hardly ever learn about the event from the letter carrier who was involved,” Rolando said. “After taking action to save or help someone, they just continue delivering the mail, and likely check up on the resident, later on, to see how things are going.”

That’s exactly what happened with Austin Rentz, a letter carrier in Waterloo, Iowa, who received the National Hero of the Year Award after he rescued a woman last year from a cooking fire in her home.

In accepting the award, he said he reacted the way anyone would have in that situation.

“I don’t look as myself as a hero. I just did something that anybody would do,” Rentz said.

For the quarter of letter carriers who are veterans, Rolando said “situational awareness and protecting others are second nature for them.” But the common theme to these good deeds, he said, is that letter carriers were at the right place at the right time.

“In addition to being public servants and trusted friends of the community, letter carriers care about our customers and communities, and demonstrate on a daily basis that we keep America connected through more than just the mail,” said David Williams, USPS chief operating officer and executive vice president.

Michael Musick, a letter carrier in Garden Grove, California, came to the rescue of two coworkers in February 2018, when an out-of-control car struck one of their USPS delivery trucks during their lunch break.

Musick pulled one of his coworkers out of the way of the truck, but his other co-worker’s ankle was crushed in the impact. While waiting for police and paramedics,  he applied a tourniquet to his coworker’s leg and kept her from bleeding out.

“She kept saying she was going to die, so I just kept telling her to keep talking to me, keep thinking about her kids,” Musick said.

While doctors were unable to save his colleague’s leg, Musick said she’s learning to walk again with a prosthetic leg.

The trauma of that event resembles what Theresa Jo Belkota, a letter carrier from the Buffalo, New York area, encountered when she came to the aid of a child whose leg had been run over by a lawnmower.

Using a shirt, Belkota put pressure on the boy’s femoral artery to slow the bleeding before medical personnel arrived on the scene.

Belkota described the event as “extremely traumatic,” but it’s not the first time she’s helped someone in an emergency.

About 15 years ago, she helped pull a man from his car after he had suffered a heart attack behind the wheel, causing a three-car collision

“That scene was, I would have to say, just as traumatic as what I had witnessed,” Belkota said.

Mark Schuh, a letter carrier from Evansville, Indiana, prevented an out-of-control pit bull from attacking a man walking his beagle. After trying to keep a distance between the pit bull and the beagle, Schuh sprayed the pit bull with dog repellent until it backed down.

Both the beagle and his owner were treated for their injuries.

“I’ve been on the same route for 30 years, so I’ve seen a lot of people — good people — and they’ve really been good to me. As a carrier, they’ve treated me really great. I’m just happy that I was able to be there for this gentleman on this route and help him,” Schuh said.

When Ivan Crisostomo, a letter carrier from Sacramento, California, found a 16-year-old girl crying by herself last June, he asked her if she needed help.

When she told him that she had just fled from the car of her abductors, and that she had been held against her will for the past three months, Crisostomo promised to stay with her and called 911.

“It’s hard to express the pain that she expressed with her crying. It’s something that you cannot forget,” Crisostomo said.

Mitchell Rivas, a letter carrier from Cleveland, Ohio, received NALC’s humanitarian of the year for standing up a charitable foundation that has helped thousands of people with critically ill children.

Rivas launched the foundation in 2015, less than a month after his 28-month-old daughter Maryssa died from congenital heart failure. She had spent most of her life in hospitals.

To date, the foundation has given aid to more than 2,000 individuals and provided meals and accommodations for families with children fighting serious conditions.

During the holiday season, Rivas, together with the local police department, organize a monthlong toy collection campaign and then deliver those gifts to children in area hospitals.

While the foundation draws on his family’s experience with tragedy, Rivas said what he does — and what his fellow award recipients do — is typical of the postal community.

“As heroes, we represent a small sampling of what the United States Postal Service offers. My brothers and sisters in the letter carrier field and throughout the Postal Service are all about this. We put the ‘service’ in Postal Service.”

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