After delivering mail for the past 17 years, Bryan Krukowski says Tuesday was the worst weather he has faced.
“I can deal with snow and ice, but when you have this kind of wind, it’s a whole new element,” he said as he thawed out in his mail truck in Kenmore after completing his morning deliveries and before undertaking his afternoon rounds.
“It just gets in you,” he said of the high winds and blowing snow.
“I can deal with zero degrees but not the wind chill,” he added. “It’s unlike anything I ever felt.”
Krukowski was just one of the many U.S. Postal carriers out delivering the mail Tuesday – or trying to do so – across Western New York, even in Orchard Park, one of the hardest-hit towns. But the Postal Service reported no widespread suspension of mail delivery among the 1,400 area carriers.
“We’re making it a location-by-location decision,” postal district spokeswoman Karen Mazurkiewicz said.
The Postal Service, in a statement, said “the safety and health of our employees is one of our primary concerns.”
So local postal managers are responsible “for deciding whether postal services should be suspended for any reason, including issues related to weather.”
Had Krukowski thought about calling in sick when he looked outside Tuesday morning?
”I couldn’t do that to my fellow carriers,” the 47-year-old postal employee said. “We all have to deal with it.”
Krukowski used ski goggles to keep the stinging wind-propelled snow out of his eyes so he could see where he was going.
He also wore three pairs of long johns, “of varying sizes,” an insulated canvas coat, a knit cap, a balaclava pull-over ski mask and scarves as well as insulated gloves over a pair of thin gloves and insulated canvas and rubber boots that go over his shows.
“I’ve been doing this for years so I know what to do,” he said.
The Postal Service provides mail carriers with an allowance to cover the costs of the special winter gear, Krukowski said.
The insulated gloves are good, he said, but they froze up under the blizzard conditions. “You know it’s bad when your gloves freeze up,” he said.
How does delivering mail during the Blizzard of ‘14 compare with performing his duties during the October 2006 Surprise Storm?
“I had to dodge a lot of trees,” he said, recalling the heavy wet snow that brought down leaf-laden trees and branches as well as electric lines more than seven years ago. “But this is worse, with the wind and snow blowing in your face.”
Krukowski delivers mail to more than 500 homes and businesses around Kenmore Avenue in the village, starting his rounds about 9:30 a.m. and finishing by 4 p.m.
He said he parks his truck in the neighborhood, delivers the mail, returns to the truck to warm up, then resumes his route. But before he goes out in the morning, he and his fellow carriers meet with a safety captain to get tips, which include taking breaks and keeping hydrated.
Roads in some areas were not accessible, Mazurkiewicz added, noting the Southtowns presented the greatest challenge for delivering the mail today.
“We may have to hold off delivering it now until later” when conditions improve, she said. “But we’re going to make every effort to deliver it if it can be done safely.”
Mazurkiewicz cited several factors that determine whether mail can be delivered safely.
One is mail availability – whether postal trucks were able to bring mail from the main post office on William Street in Buffalo and packages from the post office in Rochester to local post offices for distribution.
“If there is a sufficient number of letters and packages, we go ahead with deliveries if they can be made safely,” Mazurkiewicz said.
Under the postal labor-management agreement, workers are required to make every reasonable effort to report to work by the start of their shift or at least before the end of their shift, Mazurkiewicz said. If they can’t make it in, they must call their supervisor so arrangements can be made to cover their shift.
If deliveries could not be made Tuesday, she said, they will be made as soon as possible.
“We don’t like to hold mail,” she said.
“We feel we are an essential service,” she added. “We need to get packages, medicine and mail to people.”