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Flight to safety

Employees rescued from flooded town

Postal Service employees stand with the pilot, who rescued them, in front of his plane.
Fremont, NE, Post Office employees gather with pilot Doug Keeler near the plane he used to rescue them following the recent flood. From left are Pamela Eckstein, a retail associate; Luke Beran, a city carrier assistant; Rocky Ognissanti, a letter carrier; Lori Yuan, a carrier technician; Kim Ognissanti, a letter carrier; and Keeler.

Employees at the Fremont, NE, Post Office arrived at work on a Friday morning last month expecting business as usual.

The town of about 26,000 residents had recently been slammed by a major snowfall, followed by rising temperatures that caused widespread thawing. Still, no one expected disaster was imminent.

Then the levee that protected Fremont from the Elkhorn River failed. One by one, the roads surrounding the town began closing, stranding eight postal workers.

“Once every option to get them out failed and no hotels were available, no shelters had room, I knew I needed to start working on a plan to accommodate them at the Post Office,” said Wes Gronemyer, a Post Office Operations manager for Central Plains District.

He instructed the employees to settle into the Post Office, where they contacted friends and family and prepared for a long, uncertain night.

Terry Schmidt, a Central Plains District information systems manager and an amateur pilot, heard about the stranded employees and contacted Doug Keeler — a fellow pilot who owned a six-seat, twin-engine Cessna 340 airplane — to see if he could help.

“When I heard there were people stranded, wanting to get home to their families, I was happy to do it,” Keeler said.

The next morning, Keeler made two 80-mile trips to collect the employees and drop them off at an Omaha airport so they could return home.

“I’m super grateful and amazed at the level of concern and rapid response USPS showed,” said Letter Carrier Lori Yuan, one of the stranded employees.

Western Area Vice President Gregory Graves later met with Keeler to thank him. “When I heard what you did, it made me proud to be an American. You are truly a hero,” Graves said.

Keeler was happy to help USPS.

“I like your organization. … I was glad to be there,” he said.

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