Even after saving an 11-year-old from a house fire, Miami, Oklahoma, native Steve Shipman doesn’t consider himself a hero — but others do.
The National Association of Letter Carriers, representing letter carriers across the country, awarded the 25-year letter carrier with its Western Region Hero award, placing him among the ranks of this year’s letter carriers who have been honored for saving people’s lives from fires, car wrecks and bullets.
The award recognizes letter carriers across the country who have gone out of their way to save lives and help people, according to a news release. This year the association recognized seven for their good deeds.
Shipman, 55, was working his normal route on South Miller Street in Vinita in early February when he saw a house on fire.
After calling 911, Shipman ran to the porch and banged on the door. About that time, Sherman Alberty, who lives next door, pulled into the driveway, Shipman said.
Flames poured out of the side of the home, and its front windows burst from the heat, Shipman said.
“I didn’t know a structure could burn like that,” he said.
Shipman got off the porch to talk to Alberty, and the two men heard screaming from inside the house. They ran around back, and Alberty tried to knock out the window.
When that didn’t work, Shipman found a 2x4 piece of lumber, which Alberty used to break the window. Inside, the two found an 11-year-old girl.
After they cleared the jagged pieces of glass from the window frame, the two men pulled the girl out, Shipman said.
Once Shipman discovered no one else was in the house, he went back to delivering mail.
Shipman thought that was the last he’d hear of the incident. He didn’t tell anyone. Yet, the next day, the story was on the front page of the Vinita Daily Journal.
Now, Shipman is the region’s hero of the year, at least by the National Association of Letter Carriers standards.
“When it comes to something like this, I don’t know how to accept it very well,” Shipman said.
Shipman said he did what anyone would have in the same situation, and that at least half the credit should go to Alberty.
“I needed (Alberty’s) help, and he needed my help. And it worked out,” Shipman said.
Since the fire, Shipman said he hasn’t spoken with the family or the daughter, but he does pass by the house — or what’s left of it — during his routes. He said someone bulldozed the house.
Shipman and the other letter carriers received their awards Oct. 8 at a ceremony in Washington, D.C.
Pam Donato, community services coordinator with NALC, said she met Shipman for the first time a few days before the ceremony, and that he seemed very quiet and humble.
At a dinner with the award recipients and their families, Shipman was very reserved in telling his story — until the part where he spoke about the little girl, Donato said.
“I think he really connected with the rest of the heroes,” she said.
In a world where everyone tends to gravitate toward bombastic behavior and toot their own horn, Shipman is an “old-fashioned do-gooder,” Donato said.
After helping to save the little girl from a burning home, covered in soot and smelling of smoke, Shipman continued his route — because, after all, the mail has to be delivered, Donato said.
Shipman’s story speaks not only to the character of letter carriers as a whole, but also to the capacity of human beings to do good acts that they didn’t even know they had in them, Donato said.
“I firmly believe it’s one of the best-kept secrets about humanity,” she said."
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