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Mail Carriers Have Another Worry

May 7, 2002

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WASHINGTON (AP) _ Along comes another terrorist trying to get attention and _ once again _ the nation’s postal employees find themselves in the line of fire.

This time it’s bombs hidden in mailboxes.

Last fall it was anthrax.

Add these to the normal hassles of weather and driving and dogs.

``We seem to keep coming across new obstacles,″ said Richard Watkins, a spokesman for the Postal Service in the Midwest.

In Tipton, Iowa, letter carrier Jim Pelzer wore protection: safety goggles and earplugs, a gift from his wife.

``My feeling was when we had 9-11 and the anthrax scare, I was a little concerned about my job safety,″ Pelzer said. ``But now I’m intimidated and scared. When I approach a mailbox today I know I’m going to be a little more nervous.″

Residents were asked to leave their mailboxes open so carriers could see inside. Carriers were told to report any closed boxes so they could be opened safely by postal inspectors.

``With the boxes open, you feel a lot safer,″ mail carrier Doris Fehlhafer said outside Seward, Neb., near where a pipe bomb was found Saturday.

Mike Matuzek, Postal Service district manager for Nebraska and southwest Iowa, said the carriers are indignant that someone is trying to stop them from delivering the mail.

Drew Von Bergen, a spokesman for the National Association of Letter Carriers, said: ``Obviously letter carriers are concerned, and they’re taking extra caution. ... Nevertheless, they’re out there doing the job and they’re not being deterred from delivering the mail.″

Bill Vejvoda, a 25-year postal veteran delivering mail in Boys Town, Neb., said he considers postal workers’ chances of getting injured pretty slim. The key is using caution and common sense, he said.

``They want to instill some fear into us. I think if they accomplish that they win,″ Vejvoda said. ``We have to show that we we’re not going to back down.″

In Washington, postal vice president Azeezaly Jaffer praised both the rural and city carriers threatened or injured by the bombs found in parts of Iowa, Illinois and Nebraska.

``It is like when a disaster strikes a community, people rally around,″ he said. ``These people feel America depends on us, we can’t let them down ... this is an attack on the heartland of America.″

An FBI official said a pipe bomb found in a Colorado mailbox Monday appeared linked to those found in the Midwest, raising concerns that the domestic terrorism spree is spreading West.

Postal managers in affected states urged their workers to ``Be smart. Be cautious. And be safe.″

In mandatory safety talks, the officials discussed the bombs and urged carriers to report anything suspicious.

Typed letters accompanying the bombs complained about the government limiting what people can do.

Postal Inspector Dan Mihalko, in Washington, said there is no indication the post office or its employees are the intended targets.

The note never gets into specifics, Mihalko said. The Postal Service could be ``just a convenient place of dropping things off,″ he said.

That was apparently the case last fall when anthrax-laced letters were sent to politicians and news media in New York, Florida and Washington. Among the victims were two Washington postal workers, who died.

Thousands of postal workers took precautionary antibiotics for weeks after the letters were found.

Washington’s major mail handling and distribution center remains closed, as does a center in New Jersey where the letters were mailed. Both buildings must be decontaminated before they can be returned to service.

The bomb scare comes as the Postal Service prepares to launch its annual campaign at the end of May aimed at reducing one of the most common threats to carriers: dog bites.

While some dogs’ antagonism for mail carriers is often the stuff of cartoons, it’s no joke to the post office. Some 3,138 postal employees were injured in dog attacks last year, incurring $25 million in costs for medical care, workers’ compensation, legal costs and carrier replacement while out injured, the agency said.

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