March 05--If rural mailbox owners in the Cottondale area got their letters a tad later than usual on Monday, there's a good reason for that, as resident and mail customer Laird Williams can attest. He was driving down Sapp Road near his home around 3 p.m. Monday when he saw a fluff of suspicious smoke ahead. He drove on down and discovered a grass fire off the side of the road. Propelled by strong winds, it was quickly spreading toward the tree line.
Worried that the racing blaze could set the woods on fire, Williams stopped in a neighbor's yard to alert her and to call 911. While he and the neighbor were standing in her yard talking, Postal Carrier Jonathan Bailey pulled in to deliver her mail. He handed it off and drove on down to get a look at the fire himself. Williams watched as Bailey parked near the fire, got out of his car in a hurry, and ran to retrieve an old military field shovel from his trunk.
Bailey then dug out the fire. He shoveled some of the burning grass on to the roadway, letting it burn itself out there while he continued to dig out the rest. His effort likely prevented a hard-to-fight wildfire in the woods, Williams believes. The blaze had grown into a roughly 30-ft. spread by the time Bailey arrived, but he was able to contain it with the small fold-up shovel. When the 911 operator called Williams back to say that three fire engines were on the way, he proudly told her that they could cancel the trip. His mail carrier had saved the day.
"It was a shining moment for the postal service," Williams said. "Postal carriers get a lot of grief and complaints, criticism over every little thing that might go wrong on a route; if the mail is later being delivered, or what have you, they're going to hear about it. I'd just like to say that we as a community ought to give this young man an atta-boy. He could have just kept to his route and let us wait for 911 to get there; but I'm pretty sure that if he had, the fire crews would have had a situation on their hands, trying to get into the woods and put out a big fire in there. If it had gotten across the ditch, it would have been a real mess."
Bailey said he and other postal workers are glad to help where they can, and said he had bought the military shovel in part because he's seen a lot of circumstances on his route that let him know a few emergency supplies could come in handy. He's also got chains, various tools, and a fire ax and extinguisher; he might have had to use those last two if the fire had grown bigger that it was when found it.
Williams said he is grateful to Bailey for snuffing out what could have developed into a major fire, and that he thinks carriers deserve more respect and understanding in general. The next time someone gets irritated that their mail is a shade late, they might want to think twice before they criticize, he says; you never know what they've encountered down the line.
On a side note, Bailey has another claim to fame in his personal life. He has an ability that could someday put him in the national spotlight. See more on that story in an upcoming edition of the Floridan.
Copyright 2013 - Jackson County Floridan, Marianna, Fla.