John Sylvain was on his normal route on an April day delivering mail in South Florida, but noticed something was off when the elderly man who typically greeted him every day was nowhere to be found. Sylvain then noticed the smoke.
The letter carrier ran into the building, found the man and escorted him out. The neighbor in the same house was still inside. He found a fire extinguisher and ran back inside, before ultimately coming outside, smashing the window and spraying the flames. The neighbor was then able to find his way out.
Sylvain was not done. He ran back inside to rescue the dogs, who onlookers had alerted him to. The smoke was too heavy, however, and he had to exit. Sylvain spent four days in the hospital, where he was treated for smoke inhalation.
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Peter Monteleone heard two women scream while he was out making his deliveries in Westchester, N.Y., last October. A mother and her 12-year-old daughter had just returned home and found a burglar inside, and were waiting outside on their driveway. Monteleone then noticed the burglar trying to leave the house through a side door, so he blocked the exit. He urged the mother to call the police and continued to block the burglar from leaving until they arrived.
Law enforcement eventually arrested the man inside the home, who was carrying stolen blank checks and jewelry.
Sylvian and Monteleone were among 10 letter carriers deemed heroes at an award ceremony on Wednesday for lifesaving and courageous actions on the job for the U.S. Postal Service. They were honored by the National Association of Letter Carriers, a union representing 280,000 current and former postal workers, at a reception in Washington, D.C.
NALC President Fredric Rolando said the honorees took the actions they did “not because they are supermen or superwomen,” but instead because “they care about the people and the families that they serve.”
Jason Moss, a letter carrier in Tampa., Fla., won Hero of the Year along with Sylvain, the top honor. He also assisted in a fire rescue, running into a building three times to save an elderly man trapped inside. He persisted after smoke inhalation forced him to fall to his knees and exit the building after his first two attempts.
NALC also gave awards to employees in each of the regions it represents and one for general humanitarian work.
During Hurricane Harvey, the U.S. Postal Service temporarily ceased delivering mail in the Houston area due to severe flooding. Ebony Nobles, a city carrier assistant, decided to use her time off for good. She arranged for the rescue of dozens of individuals stuck in their homes, and even drove a fellow letter carrier to safety after arranging for a boat to pick up the coworker from her house. She then arranged for an Army vehicle to take the woman, the woman’s daughter and her dog to an emergency shelter. Nobles continued her rescue work when she was activated by the Army Reserves, plunging into deep waters and climbing onto rooftops to save lives. When the flood waters receded and the Postal Service reopened for business, she conducted her Reservist activities at night and reported to her post office in the mornings.
For her efforts, Nobles was awarded humanitarian of the year.
“When you see a city that you’re working in and you see a city that you live in and you see the devastation and watch the utter defeat of some people, your only reaction is to jump in and help,” Nobles said while accepting her award on Wednesday.
Postmaster General Megan Brennan attended the event to thank employees for their dedication.
“You do more than deliver mail,” Brennan said. “You represent the Postal Service, you care about your community, you live in these communities and your selfless acts, your humanitarian efforts, deserve this recognition.”
Nearly every honoree accepted their award with humility, saying they did only what anyone in their situation would have done.
Antonio Colon is a California letter carrier who halted an attempted rape while he was delivering packages in an apartment complex by threatening to use the pepper spray he carries for protection against dogs on his route and held the suspect until the police arrived.
“I don’t think I deserve this,” Colon said in accepting the award, “but thank you anyway.”