By now, everybody within the Postal Tsunami's destructive swale, which sounds swell but is sometimes not, has heard the story of Peggy Frank, a letter carrier who was found dead in her truck on Friday, July 6th, in the Woodland Hills area of Los Angeles. Then again, maybe you haven't gotten the message. Here in southern California we have been inundated with heat related safety talks since the incident, which occurred on a heatwave day when the temperature hit a record breaking 117 in that area. Perhaps, however, in the flyover hotbox/icebox where you live, such weather related fatalities are commonplace and the event did not cause much of a stir.
I am certainly not expecting those of you letter carriers who bundle up like Eskimos in winter and strip to the skivvies in summer to do much crying for us out here in Socal, just because our mercury hit triple digits for one week. What I would like to do, rather, is use this incident to rant over the question of why the technology the Postal Service uses to inflict evil upon carriers, through the dark magic of that little blue talisman called your scanner, cannot also be used to do good, especially when a climatic crisis requires it.
First a few facts. Peggy Frank was pronounced dead at 3:35 PM on that fatal Fry-day after a "bystander or co-worker" found her unresponsive in her postal vehicle. Attempts by emergency personnel to revive her failed. Several reports state Ms. Frank had just returned from medical leave, one article saying she had been out with a broken ankle. Although Frank had suffered heat related incidents in the past, the severe heat has not yet been identified as the cause of death, pending "additional tests." Hmm... Methinks if I were wagering on that horse race, with the temperature the day of her tragic demise approaching infinity and beyond, that old nag Heat Stroke would be safe money.
I suppose we will learn the grim details soon enough. In the meantime, the woeful, premature passing of a grandmother who was nearing retirement prompts me to wonder why, if the Postal Service is equipped with technology that can monitor every step you take, snap a surreptitious scanner photo of you picking your nose or send the alarms in the scanner-snoop war room howling when you exceed your lunch by so much as a second, why can't they do the same thing to find out if you are safe during a massive heat wave? If safety is, indeed, the mother of all priorities management pays lip service to every day at service talks, this would be a cool thing to do when it's warm.
Even before this incident, I had been pondering other benevolent uses for our postal scanners. For instance, could we not use their GPS data to verify that letter carriers are taking their 30 minute lunches, as required by contract and by law? I'm sure managers as well as carriers are dedicated to the proposition of following state law, right? So in addition to a stationary report, our favorite sunglass-clad Agent Smith, monitoring the sanctity of the Postal Matrix up there in the warped consciousness where there is no red pill to return to reality, could also run a "non-stationary" report, to pinpoint those carriers' scanners that do not have a half hour pause in activity, meaning they skipped their lunches. Certainly the Postal Service recognizes the importance of adequate rest and nutrition to safety. Seeing as how my manager swears on a daily basis that seeing us all go home safe is his number one priority, I'm surprised he never thought of this.
But the burning question in the here and now is whether that little blue leash tethering us to Postal Big Brother could have saved letter carrier Peggy Frank. The staff of the Postal Damage Control Department did not weigh in on this issue, even though they were in a higher state of readiness than whoever was supposed to be manning Spy Central that sizzling San Fernando day. In contrast to the sluggards at the Postal peep show, the ensuing response from corporate communications was quickly forthcoming, though poorly fumigated, reeking mightily of "Pass the Buck," to me.
As the crisis unveiled, Postal spokeswoman Evelyn Ramirez was quoted in the LA Daily news as saying that USPS employees deliver mail in “...all kinds of weather, including high temperatures... The Postal Service strives to ensure that they have the tools and training to do so safely."
I wonder what sort of tools and training Ms. Ramirez is talking about. As a letter carrier, my only training for heat related incidents is being reminded to hydrate and call the supervisor in an emergency. These seem to be instinctive, no-brainer, no training required actions imbued within us before we pop out of the womb. The reptile brain stem says drink when you are thirsty and cry for Mommy when you need help, although we know how appeals to stressed out postal mommies wind up. Can you rest a few minutes and give me another swing? One teeny-weeny swingy? Okay, how about an hour? I'll tell you what. I'll give you overtime so you can cool down and finish the route.
Here's an anecdotal example of how our postal parents are trained to handle heat related incidents. A few summers ago a new CCA at our station suffered heat exhaustion and was unable to continue. She called the hot line repeatedly but, surprise surprise, no one answered. Finally she called another letter carrier who swung by, scraped her off the sidewalk and got her help.
This anecdote is not an isolated occurrence. The Los Angeles Daily news reported that in 2016 "...OSHA cited the Postal Service after two Des Moines, Iowa, workers suffered heat-related illness while delivering mail that past summer. The agency found that the two mail carriers, one of whom was told to continue walking her route despite feeling ill, were exposed to excessive heat." Thus we see that this cool response to heat-related complaints is pervasive, sweeping across the breadth of the organization, and that our so called beat the heat training is mostly a lot of hot air.
So much for training, but let's get back to these so-called tools Ms. Ramirez claims are in place to protect us against heat incidents. Could the postal spin doctors be speaking of the scanner messages we get each morning that remind us to drink water, like anyone needs to be reminded when one's sweat and body heat are so thick they create a miniature weather front inside the pith helmet? There are tools potentially more effective than these inspirational morning eye openers, but they are not being used. For instance, a simple call from whoever is on watch in that converted broom closet at the stationary report command center, warning that such and such carrier has been in one place over half an hour, could be used to save someone from blue lining in postal blue. No carrier likes to be spied on, but if the spies in the sky are already on post, couldn't they use their powers for good on occasion?
Instead, my eyes burn with the fumes from the smokescreen being fanned up to cover complicity in this heartbreaking development in Woodland Hills. I suspect that, in reality, Ms. Ramirez' quip about "tools and training" may be the Postal Service's preemptive strike to shift blame from USPS management onto poor Ms. Frank. Accidents happen, death is inevitable for all, but I ask the question why the same resources used to monitor our every move couldn't have been used to rescue poor Peggy - may the postal angels transport her to glory in that sweet, air-conditioned LLV in the sky.
Photo from fox5dc.com