NEW PORT RICHEY, Fla. — A Pasco County mail carrier is being praised for quick thinking on the job that one family said may have saved their lives.
"I just helped, and I did it without thinking," said Juan Carlos Ocasio.
Ocasio said he's worked for the United States Postal Service for eight years, the last three as a rural carrier on a route in the Moon Lake area. Ocasio said he covers 44 miles a day, making 650 stops along the way.
"You've got to keep on track because, you know, if you waste time, it's going to be hard to do it," Ocasio said. "But I make it everyday on time."
Making the same rounds everyday means Ocasio has become familiar with more than the neighborhood's streets.
"It's amazing," he said of his rural route. "We are keeping in touch with the people around the community. It feels like a family."
Learning a community also means knowing when something is off. On Aug. 29, Ocasio was delivering mail on Loy Street when he noticed something strange.
"I saw smoke coming above the fence," he said. "Normally, in that house, kids are around playing, and I don't see no one."
Ocasio said he asked a neighbor if the family was home, but he said he didn't know. While the neighbor tried to get in touch with someone by phone, Ocasio said he entered the property's front gate and found fire.
"The fire — it was so strong. Suddenly, you cross the gate, you feel the heat in your face," Ocasio said.
Next, Ocasio said he started trying to get the attention of anyone who might be inside.
"I got a knock on my brother's window from the mailman," said Tyler Salyers, 23. "We came outside, and there was a fire in the shed."
Salyers said the shed was very close to his family's mobile home, a corner of which was damaged by the fire. He said none of his family members inside, which included his six-year-old brother and two-year-old nephew, realized the shed was up in flames.
"We probably wouldn't have gotten out of the house if it wasn't for him. We probably would have still been in there, and it would have lit," Salyers said.
Three days after the fire, Ocasio received thank you cards from Salyers' family.
"That's the first card — breaks my heart. Says 'Thank you for saving my family.' It's Hayden, six years old," Ocasio said, pointing to the signature.
Another card reads, "Thank you for saving my family. You saved 6 people's life. My family can't thank you enough."
"He definitely is a hero," said Salyers. "Saved a lot of children and a lot of people in the house that day."
Ocasio, a father of three himself, said it's hard to describe what goes through his mind while reading the cards.
"It's so emotional, and I can't explain how I feel, you know?" he said. "They tell me, 'thank you so much.' You know, it feels good."
Ocasio's supervisor told Spectrum News he's been nominated for the Postmaster General Heroes' Program. According to USPS's website, it honors postal workers who go above and beyond to help their communities.