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Minnesota mail truck fire causes mail, package loss for nearly 140 postal customers

BRAINERD, Minn.—The mail and parcels of more than 140 postal delivery customers were damaged in a mail truck fire the day after Thanksgiving, the U.S. Postal Service reported Thursday.

Pete Nowacki of corporate communications for the U.S. Postal Service said affected customers were sent letters Tuesday from Brainerd area Postmaster Christopher Murphy. A tray containing deliveries for 143 customers was "severely damaged and may not be salvageable," the letter stated. Most of the mail was letter mail, it went on, although several larger envelopes, publications and small packages were in the tray as well.

"The vast majority of the route had already been delivered," Nowacki said.

The vehicle fire occurred about 6 p.m. Nov. 25 along Highway 371 north of Gull Lake Dam Road. The Brainerd Fire Department was called to respond to the blaze. Brainerd Fire Chief Tim Holmes said the postal worker, identified as Kia Rodman, attempted to remove as much mail as possible from the flaming truck with the help of a Crow Wing County sheriff's deputy and a firefighter.

Nowacki said carrier vehicles, like the one Rodman was driving, are not equipped with fire extinguishers, although the larger 2-, 7- and 11-ton vehicles do have extinguishers. Nowacki said all employees receive fire prevention and response training as part of the U.S. Postal Service's overall safety program.

"Safety of employees and customers is our most important concern," Nowacki wrote in a statement. "In the event of any type of accident we advise our employees to first ensure they are safe and call 911. All accidents are subsequently investigated and reviewed internally to determine if additional training is needed."

Nowacki said the postal service does record, review and track all accidents internally, although specific information about the frequency or type of accidents was not releasable.

Michelle Price of Baxter witnessed the fire, capturing video of the incident. Price was traveling southbound on Highway 371 when she saw the flaming vehicle and someone running from it.

"She (Rodman) was trying to save packages as we pulled up," Price said by email. "This woman went out of her way and risked her life for your packages. ... She deserves to be appreciated."

Holmes said when additional fire crews arrived, the fire was quickly extinguished. It appeared to have started in the engine compartment of the truck, he added.

Rodman was transported by North Ambulance to Essentia Health-St. Joseph's Medical Center in Brainerd after suffering minor smoke inhalation. When reached Thursday for comment, Rodman declined to speak further on the incident.

Chelsey Perkins

Chelsey Perkins grew up in Crosslake and is a graduate of Pequot Lakes High School. She earned her bachelor's degree in professional journalism at the University of Minnesota-Twin Cities. Perkins interned at the Lake Country Echo and the Rochester and Austin Post-Bulletins, and also worked for the student-run Minnesota Daily newspaper as a copy editor and columnist during college. She went on to intern at Utne Reader magazine, where she was later hired as the research editor. Before becoming the community editor of the Brainerd Dispatch, Perkins worked as the county government beat reporter at the Dispatch and a staff writer for the Pineandlakes Echo Journal.

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