KANSAS CITY, Mo. - After 29 years, Susan Rebholz has a strategy to make it through her postal route and the frigid temperatures. She opened the door of her postal van and lifted a large black bag, thumbing through extra hooded sweatshirts, socks, pants, a rain coat and hats—components of her survival kid that she carries every day. It took five years into her career to realize she needed to have it on hand.
"When you're younger you don't want to look like you need stuff but when you get older, you don't care what people think," she said.
Four layers on top and two layers on bottom keep Susan warm enough to trek the nine miles she covers on her route each day. Sometimes she even adds a face mask to her hat and earmuffs.
"Only if it is really cold," she said.
The zero-degree day on Thursday didn't qualify. She said the frigid, polar-vortex-like temperatures of a few weeks ago were facemask-worthy.
All laughing aside, Rebholz understands how dangerous the temperatures can be.
"This is serious, you can get frostbite," she said.
Letter carriers face extreme conditions all year long. On a steaming hot day in July 2012, John Watzlawick, 57, collapsed on his route. He later died from heat exposure.
OSHA officials fined the Independence post office $70,000 for not properly training employees to recognize the symptoms of heat stroke. Post office officials contested the fine and the case is still pending.
While Rebholz walked up and down the blocks of her Brookside route, she carefully opened and closed each mailbox. When asked why, she smiled and said, "I don't want to draw the dogs."
But of all the tricks of her trade she has developed, she said the most important lesson has been listening to herself.
"Pay attention to your body. Can you move your fingers? Can you feel them? Same goes for your toes," she said.
After three decades, Rebholz always shows up.
"Never call in, ask my supervisor," she said, balancing safety with dedication.
Post office officials tell 41 Action News any employee is always encouraged to take a break if they feel the weather conditions are too demanding on their bodies.