Postal Service letter carriers often become first responders when an emergency takes place on their route.
Over the past few years, letter carriers pulled residents from a burning home, rescued plane crash survivors and protected a woman from an attacker by sheltering her in their mail truck.
National Association of Letter Carriers honored about two dozen of its members for their acts of heroism last its NALC Heroes of the Year awards ceremony last Thursday — the first in-person celebration of its kind since November 2019.
Postmaster General Louis DeJoy thanked letter carriers receiving the award for their acts of exceptional service, and for serving as essential roles in their communities.
“Not everyone does the heroic thing when the moment calls for a hero,” DeJoy said. “I am very proud to say there are many great heroes at the United States Postal Service.”
Letter carriers, he added, are a routine presence in the lives of their customers, and “often rise to the occasion when help is needed.”
“In a crisis that can be averted, or in a dangerous situation can be diffused, you epitomize the ideal of a public servant, and your actions reflect the very best expectations of the Postal Service and of the country,” DeJoy said.
NALC Executive Vice President Paul Barner said letter carriers often deliver on the same routes for years, or even decades. They form bonds with their customers, he added, and know when something is amiss.
Letter carriers often notice when a resident’s mail has gone uncollected for many days, and are able to alert authorities, or help individuals when they witness an emergency happening on their route.
Matthew King, a letter carrier in Champaign, Illinois, received NALC’s 2020 Special Carrier Alert Award, after he rescued a family of five from a burning home and helped prevent serious fire damage to the house.
After getting the family outside the home, King called 911 and helped neighbors dump buckets of water on the fire until firefighters arrived.
“We all take an oath as federal employees to the Constitution of the United States. The Constitution is there to provide domestic tranquility — whether you’re putting letters in a box, or doing something else as fate in the situation might call for,” King said.
Gerald Soileau, a letter carrier in Lafayette, Louisiana, received NALC’s Central Region Hero Award for 2020, after he pulled two survivors to safety when a plane crashed in the parking lot of his post office.
“When tragedy hit. I didn’t even think about myself. I heard the plane go by. I heard screaming for help, and I reacted,” Soileau said.
Barner said most award recipients rarely bring attention to their acts of service, and that the union often only learns about these incidents from local authorities or media coverage.
“The one place where we rarely find out about the event is from the letter carrier himself or herself,” he said.
NALC’s award ceremony last week was its first since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. The union recognized letter carriers for acts of heroism between 2020 and 2022.
Several letter carriers being honored for heroism in 2020 and 2021 were unable to attend, or are no longer USPS employees or NALC members.
Jody Kotowski, a 2021 Hero of the Year Award recipient, died from COVID-19 in December 2020. Kotowski donated an air conditioner to an elderly veteran during a heat wave, then worked with a veterans service organization to address an insect infestation in his home.
Christine Cambizaca, a city carrier assistant in Torrington, Connecticut, received the 2022 National Hero of the Year Award for helping a woman escape an attacker with a knife.
Cambizaca shielded a bloodied and bruised woman in her mail truck, and kept a knife-wielding attacker from entering the vehicle until police came.
The incident, which she described as an instance of domestic violence, happened about a month after she started working for USPS.
“It could have been your sister, it could have been your daughter going through domestic violence. And it’s not right, at the end of the day, and we should never go through that traumatized life,” Cambizaca said. “I will always care about humanity and our community.”