‘We are on the front line:’ USPS letter carriers recognized for heroic acts

The National Association of Letter Carriers tracks about 150 acts of heroism from USPS employees every year, and recognizes some of them at an annual ceremony.

A Postal Service letter carrier is one of the most public-facing jobs in the federal government.

They deliver mail and packages to 163 million addresses across the U.S. at least six days a week. They’re a routine presence in their customers’ lives, which means they’re often the first to realize when something on their route isn’t quite right.

It turns out letter carriers are often first on the scene in the case of an emergency. Every year, USPS employees rescue people from house fires, car crashes and medical emergencies while on their routes.

Those letter carriers also see when customers are going through a hard time, and find ways to give back to the community.

The National Association of Letter Carriers tracks about 150 of these acts of heroism from its members every year. But each year, the union recognizes a select few for extraordinary acts of service.

Some of NALC’s Letter Carrier Heroes of the Year put their own safety on the line to help save lives. Others led toy drives in their community and held annual charity concerts to make the holiday season extra special for families in need.

NALC National President Brian Renfroe said letter carriers provide an essential service to their customers, and are the “eyes and ears of their communities.”

“No one knows our communities and our neighborhoods like letter carriers. We deliver on our routes six and even seven days a week. We get to know our customers. We get to know them better each and every day,” Renfroe said during an award ceremony last Wednesday.

Postmaster General Louis DeJoy said letter carriers are often called on to “go above and beyond the call of duty when something unpredictable happens.”

“Sometimes, it requires an incredible act of heroism. When our carrier happens to be in a life-altering, defining moment and follows his or her instinct to do the right thing above all else,” DeJoy said. “That carrier, despite the personal risk involved, acts selflessly and helps others, making that carrier a hero.”

Phillip Moon, a letter carrier who’s worked the same route for 27 years in Amarillo, Texas, received the National Hero of the Year award. Last October, he saved a woman from a pitbull who was attacking her and her two dogs.

“I noticed it was mauling her. It had her by the leg and was just doing this number on her. So I jumped out of my truck and went to help, and was able to get the dog off of her by beating on it with my hand on its head. And it turned her loose,” Moon said.

That gave Moon the moment he needed to pull the woman into his truck, away from the dog and start treating her wounds.

“I noticed she was bleeding very bad. It enabled me to get to my phone, and call 911. They told me that I needed to get a compress on this wound right away. And all I could think of was to use my shirt to make a compress. I took my shirt off and mashed it down real hard, kept the compress on it, talking to the 911 operator,” Moon said.

Moon says he’s honored to receive the award, but doesn’t think he’s a hero — just someone who did the right thing.

“I don’t consider myself a hero. I’m just very grateful and honored and thankful that I was in a place where I could be of some assistance to somebody in need,” he said.

Kyle Mailman (yes, that’s his actual name) received one of this year’s Vigilant Hero Awards for saving a woman from a natural gas leak in her home.

“I was getting ready to walk up and I can smell natural gas. So I go up to the door and I hit the floor. I started to choke a little bit, with how concentrated it was there in the entryway. And my first thought was, ‘If it’s coming from inside the house, this is really, really bad,'” Mailman said.

Mailman knocked on the door, and a resident answered. But he knew something wasn’t quite right.

“I’d had natural gas poisoning 20 years prior, so I knew a little bit about it. And we started going over the symptoms of it. She was irritable, she was fatigued. She was having trouble comprehending very basic things that normally she could. And I said, ‘Get out of the house, get everybody out.'”

Mailman’s suspicions were correct. When the gas company arrived on the scene, it turned out gophers had chewed through the gas line, creating a major gas leak in Mary’s fireplace.

These awards don’t just go to letter carriers who respond to an emergency. They also go to letter carriers who give back to their community, and keep doing so year after year.

NALC recognized four New York City letter carriers for launching a nonprofit that organizes holiday toy drives.

Earnest Twomley is one of the carriers who received the award. He said this all began a decade ago, with a chance encounter on the street.

“I was delivering my route. And I come across a family coming out of a cab in the middle of the street. A little girl was standing there screaming, crying. Having three kids of my own, I know what pain is, and I know what a tantrum was. I saw that she was in pain, walked over to her and said, ‘Have you ever been delivered to your apartment by a mailman?’ And she just looked up and smiled,” Twomley  said. “I picked her up, carried her a couple of fights. That stopped the little girl from crying. So when I came out of the building, one of the tenants says, ‘That was a nice thing you did … She just came back from Sloan Kettering [Cancer Center]. She has a brain tumor and she had a treatment.’ So that’s why she was in pain.”

This happened around Thanksgiving, so Twomley told the girl to write a letter to Santa.

USPS enables volunteers to “adopt” a child’s letter to Santa through its Operation Santa program and send a gift through the mail.  In this case, Twomley was the one checking everything off her list.

After that, Twomley said things just snowballed from there.

“We started one toy drive that led to another toy drive, that led to doing other stuff as well for the community,” he said.

Since then, Twomley and his fellow carriers created a nonprofit called Better Angels of Human Nature and donated hundreds of toys to children across the city.

Better Angels isn’t an official USPS program, but Twomley says he’s got big aspirations for his enterprise.

“We can take this on a national level,” he said. “Just think of the eyes of these kids. You would think it’s just a toy. But then again, we go far and beyond — and that’s us postal workers. We are on the frontline.”

Besides Twomley, NALC also recognized letter carriers David Correa, Heriberto Rodriguez and Daniel Weber for their contributions to the Better Angels program.

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