A recent meeting of the Florence Township Council was unusually packed on Sept. 5, as friends, family and colleagues of local mail carrier Mary Matthews gathered to celebrate her actions earlier this year that kept a home from burning down.
As an employee of the United States Postal Service (USPS) for more than 30 years, Matthews, 54, was making her daily route on June 29 when she heard a smoke alarm and noticed a burning smell coming from a home on Maple Avenue.
Knowing that no one was inside, Matthews walked to the back of the property, where she noticed a cloud of smoke billowing from the house, prompting her to call 911.
Upon Matthews’ call, the township fire department soon arrived and contained the damage within the residence to the kitchen, where a burning electrical stove caused the incident.
Although Matthews was quick to notify local officials of the fire, Florence Fire Chief Kevin Mullen said that it was her thorough description of the scene that helped firefighters shape their tactical response.
“The fire department was dispatched originally for an odor of smoke, but because of Matthews’ report to 911 dispatchers, they said they upgraded the assignment based on her observations,” Mullen said. “Part of the information she provided was crucial, and also gave our dispatcher the opportunity to increase the assignment from one station to four.”
While firefighters extinguished the flames inside the home, first responders shut down Maple Avenue. But Matthews, knowing better than to stand outside as a bystander, went right back to work along her route, according to Mullen.
“Deputy Chief Keith Scully was the first one on location and I had to go park on Delaware Avenue – and as I’m walking down Maple Avenue, I see she started to do her route again,” Mullen said. “She was heading down the block, and I was heading to the fire.”
As news spread around town in the following days, a local friend of Matthews notified Florence Township Mayor Craig Wilkie of her actions. In an effort to commend her actions, Mayor Wilkie declared Sept. 9, 2018 as “Mary Matthews Day.”
Throughout the Sept. 5 meeting, several of Matthews’ closest friends and colleagues shared their fond memories of the mail carrier over the years.
June Bencze, a homeowner along Matthews’ route, said one incident roughly 20 years ago announced to the room that this wasn’t the first time she went “above and beyond her call of duty.”
About 20 years ago, Bencze said a friend of hers in Roebling shared that her son’s purple “mini-bike” motorcycle had been stolen. After Benzce told Matthews what happened, Matthews drove into Roebling, far off her route, to search for the stolen motorcycle. When she spotted a similar vehicle on Alden Avenue, she contacted local police. A short time later, the bike was returned to its rightful owner.
After receiving praise from the governing body, the Florence Fire Department and her fellow residents, Matthews said the entire experience has left her feeling elated.
“I was on cloud nine the next day delivering mail after getting that award,” Matthews said. “I was overwhelmed – knowing that I was talking to one of my customers the next day who goes to all the town meetings and said, ‘Mary, I just want to tell you that the town meeting is never that full.’”
Moving forward, Matthews will always cherish this capstone moment on her career with the USPS, but she admits she has no plans to hang up her carrier bag just yet.
“I’m proud of it,” said Matthews. “I got less than two years to go before I can retire, but I don’t think I’m going to go because I love my job so much.”