Letter carriers here will be delivering more than mail to thousands of homes from now on -- and they could be bringing crucial help to people in danger.
The Carrier Alert Program, aimed at elderly and disabled shut-ins, was announced Friday in the LaSalle Station of the Niagara Falls Post Office.
If it proves beneficial in Niagara Falls, the program will be expanded into Buffalo and the rest of Western New York, said Robert J. McLennan, president of Buffalo/Western New York's Branch 3 of the National Association of Letter Carriers.
"Nobody has the relationship we have with the people out there," McLennan said. "Sometimes we are the only contact they have. It's an invaluable link we have with the community."
The city's 85 letter carriers deliver to 32,000 homes in the Niagara Falls area, Niagara Falls Postmaster Thomas Szklarz said.
"Carriers know when things don't look right," he said.
Brochures being delivered by letter carriers explain the program and may be filled out and signed by anyone wanting to participate, Szklarz said.
Previous mail that hasn't been picked up is the first sign letter carriers notice. If the person cannot be reached by phone, postal officials will contact relatives or friends listed as contacts on the application brochure.
The program may have already helped save lives in Hamburg, where it was introduced nearly a year ago, said David Patterson, Western New York district manager.
In one incident, a letter carrier rescued a person from a burning house, and in another, a carrier helped pull a man to safety after the man became trapped up to his neck in a snowdrift.
The program also will help police officers do their jobs, city Police Superintendent John R. Chella said. "Letter carriers may be the first to see something that could be a public safety issue," he said. "This gives them the opportunity to alert us and potentially avert a serious situation."