ATHENS, Ohio -- The customers on Charlie Rose's mail route in Athens, Ohio know him by his first name and for his keen nose.
The 63-year-old mailman has detected 16 gas leaks in four years, saving countless families from disaster along a postal route he has traveled for 11 years. His efforts persuaded the local utility company to replace 17,000 feet of deteriorating gas lines in the neighborhood he serves.
Rose says it's all in a day's work. The National Association of Letter Carriers says it's heroic.
On Thursday, Rose received the Special Carrier Alert award as one of the association's Heroes of the Year. This year's postal heroes have plucked a drowning boy from the ocean, saved a woman from attacking pit bulls, pulled accident victims from a smoking car and founded an organization to decorate the rooms of breast cancer patients.
Right place, right time is what Tom Logue, 51, a letter carrier from Long Beach Island, N.J., says about the day he rescued an 8-year-old boy from drowning. Logue was spending Father's Day on the beach with his family when he saw a boy struggling in a rough current and calling for help.
"Before you know it, he was out to sea," Logue said. As the boy disappeared among the breaking waves, Logue swam out to him and grabbed him. Now it was Logue's turn to struggle against the current with the boy clinging to him. Finally, a huge wave broke them free of the current, and Logue swam to shore. "I handed him to his father and said, 'Happy Father's Day.'"
Association President Fredric Rolando says the acts of heroism are amazing, but not unusual for the 180,000 letter carriers in the group. The carriers learn the ins and outs of neighborhoods and are often the first to known when something is amiss, he says.
"You're always in the right place at the right time. All kinds of stuff happens and it happens on your watch. You react not because you're Superman, but because you're there," Rolando said. "It's like you have a corps of guardian angels out there."
People trust letter carriers to come into their neighborhoods, and Rose says he likes to live up to that trust by looking out for his community.
"We're not only letter carriers. We're also like a safety net of service," Rose says. "If we see something out of the ordinary, hear something or, in my case, smell something, we're going to say something."
In 2009, he opened a house's storm door to put mail into the slot and smelled a strong odor of gas. He left a note with the mail urging the family to call the gas company, Rose said. The family learned that gas had built up in a wall of the house and could have exploded, he said. Last year, he smelled gas in the vestibule of an real estate company and told the receptionist. The owner told him the next day that a roofer had accidentally covered a vent, Rose said.
"I'm glad that I had parents who taught me you are your brother's keeper," Rose said.
Rose asked the Athens City Council to require carbon monoxide detectors in all homes and to prod the gas company to replace the aging gas lines in the neighborhood. The city now requires 5,400 rental units to have the carbon monoxide detectors, and the gas company replaced the lines.
"It took over a year to get the whole neighborhood reconnected and it was directly related to Charlie and his concerns for people in the neighborhood," said Council President Jim Sands, who noted that his mail was delivered later than usual with Rose in Washington to receive his award.
The association is also recognizing cartoonist Bil Keane posthumously with a Legacy Award. Keane's Family Circus promoted the association's annual "Stamp Out Hunger" food drive.