Postal worker uses military training to rescue girl

Chris Turner, a mail carrier who is also an Army veteran, sprang into action last month when he spotted smoke rising from an apartment building in Spencerport.

Without a second thought, he left his postal truck by the curb March 16 and ran toward the burning building to assist a man and his daughter trapped in their second-floor apartment.

Emergency responders had been summoned but had not yet arrived on scene.

"In the Army, you see people shot, people dying, and then you come home and see this happening and you just want to help," he said.

From the ground, Turner yelled to the girl that she needed to jump. Within moments, she launched herself from the open window.

"I caught her, but thank God for the snowbank behind me that broke my own fall," said Turner, who has been a mail carrier since 2014. Firefighters rescued the girl's father and several others trapped on the other side of the building. "They were safe and that was all that mattered."

Each year, hundreds of mail carriers across the country like Turner go out of their way to help someone in need, according to the National Association of Letter Carriers, which is based in Washington, D.C.

But letter carriers in Rochester lead the nation in heroic acts while on the job.

In the past 3½ years, more than two dozen local letter carriers have performed heroic acts while on the job in the Rochester region, according to the group.

With between 300 and 400 such incidents occurring nationwide each year, and more than 1,100 incidents since 2014, Rochester carriers have gone above and beyond more than two dozen times the national average, according to the association.

"Letter carriers do this because they are about the community they live and work in," said Geneva Kubal, a former letter carrier of 20 years who now coordinates the hero program for the National Association of Letter Carriers. "They see people as an extension of their family and act when people are in need simply because it's the right thing to do."

It's not uncommon

Kenny Montgomery, president of the union's 1,425-member Rochester branch, said local letter carriers perform heroic acts "more than most people know."

Among them:

Stacey McManus saw a man fall into a snowbank during her Henrietta route on a frigid March 2017 day and he could not rise, even with her help. She called 911 and stayed with the man until emergency responders arrived.

Jason Cousineau spotted twin toddler boys clad only in diapers walking hand in hand down a Rochester sidewalk in July. He corralled the boys several times (one was a runner) and attempted to locate their parents via neighbors. Ultimately, he left the boys with police who tracked down the parents. The twins' father had a medical emergency, and it was then that the boys fled the family home.

Sandy Wilkinson was delivering mail in Rochester in July and heard screams outside a Rochester home. She quickly learned that a man's lung had been punctured when he was stabbed during a fight. A former emergency medical technician and a current volunteer firefighter, Wilkinson applied pressure to the wound until emergency responders arrived.

When letter carriers perform extraordinary tasks, they don't do it for the recognition and do not feel like heroes, Montgomery said. Most postal workers don't even tell others after helping a sick, injured or elderly patron. They walk away after help arrives and continue on with their day, he said.

"They just lend a helping hand to their customers when needed," Montgomery said, adding that others typically learn of the selfless acts when others report such deeds to the Postal Service. "We are there and we feel like a part of the community we deliver in. Our customers become our friends...and in some cases are our neighbors."

Bottom line, he said, "we do it because we care."

The local union includes parts much of the Rochester region, including parts of Livingston, Orleans and Wayne counties.

Helping others

In February, Mike Figler, 51, came across an unconscious woman while delivering mail to a Penfield apartment complex.

The woman, who did not have a pulse, didn't respond, so Figler called 911 and at the direction of dispatchers, performed CPR until a police officer arrived on scene.

"Never in 100 years would I have guessed that I would do what I did," he said. "As it was happening, I just did it without thinking."

The woman ultimately died, as her brain was without oxygen for too long. But because she was an organ donor, six of her organs were donated to people in need.

"It's bittersweet," he said. "This was a route I'd never done before and I arrived an hour later than the typical carrier would've been there. I'm a firm believer that everything happens for a reason and my (arrival) at that time was meant to be."

Turner said he was shaken by his experience as a first responder, and that night he double-checked smoke and carbon monoxide detectors in his Chili home.

The girl he assisted broke her leg and her father suffered serious burns. Turner said he stayed with the girl, placing his coat on her to keep her warm, until ambulance crews took the pair to an area hospital for treatment.

"My wife told me that my Army training kicked right in when I saw the fire," he said. As a retired veteran, "if I see someone in trouble, I want to do what I can to help. I just knew that if this was my family up there, I'd want someone to do the same thing for me."