A letter carrier from San Diego will be awarded for his heroism Wednesday: the time he saved an elderly woman from a house fire as he delivered mail during his shift.
El Cajon resident David Crestik is one of eight mail carriers being honored by the National Association of Letter Carriers (NALC) at the 2016 Heroes Awards in Washington, D.C.
On July 12, 2014, as Crestik was working overtime, he noticed smoke coming from the front door of a mobile home unit in a retirement community on Mission Gorge Road in Santee.
At first, Crestik thought a resident was barbecuing. But, as he walked up to the home to investigate, he heard a beeping sound and was met with thick, heavy smoke and flames.
Crestik told NBC 7 he dropped his mail bag and ran inside the burning home. The dining room – including a table and chairs – were engulfed in flames.
He heard an elderly woman’s faint voice coming from deeper inside the home and knew someone was in trouble.
As he walked to the back bedroom, he found a woman lying on the ground, pleading for help.
“I took a big breath of smoke, and told her, ‘We gotta get out of here,’” he recounted in an interview with NBC 7 Tuesday.
“It was a very surreal moment. Everything just seemed to be going slow. You hear the crackling of the back window from the heat,” he recalled, describing the frightening scene as eerily calm and silent.
With the woman, Sharon Branden, in his arms, Crestik made his way to the front porch and then over to a neighbor's house to call 911. He waited by Branden’s side until emergency crews arrived.
Crestik, a 21-year veteran of the postal service, said he never hesitated that day, and knew he had to help.
The letter carrier said he was not working his regular route that day, and feels that he was placed by God at the right place at the right time.
“There was no thought process. You heard the voice, and God said, ‘Hey, son, get in there and do this for me.’ I feel honored and blessed that He used me as a tool,” Crestik said.
Over the past two years, Crestik has kept in touch with the woman he saved. Branden's home was destroyed by the fire, but she survived.
Crestik said Branden has nicknamed him her “Little Angel.”
And, while he’s grateful to be honored at the 2016 Heroes Awards for going above and beyond the call of duty, he’s even more grateful for the outcome on that fateful day.
“The timing was impeccable; I was right next door,” he said. “My gut is she would’ve perished – but she’s here.”
The NALC named Crestik its "Western Region Hero of the Year" and commended his awareness on the job.
"He placed himself in incredible danger and put his life second to others," the association said Wednesday. "A house can be rebuilt—a life cannot."
In addition to the NALC award, Crestik received a plaque from the mayor who also declared a day in San Diego in his honor. Crestik said the experience has been humbling, and added, "I just take it in stride."
Other letter carriers from across the U.S. being recognized at Wednesday’s Heroes Awards luncheon at the Hyatt Regency on Capitol Hill include a letter carrier from York, Pennsylvania, who saved a boy with autism who darted across a busy highway and a letter carrier from Rock Hill, South Carolina, who saved a girl being mauled by a dog.
The NALC said this year's class of honorees, including Crestik, represent the letter carriers who not only deliver mail daily, but “often assist in situations involving accidents, fires, crimes or health crises.”