Stamping out the Cold – Letter Carriers Are Experts in Dealing With Artic Temps

By Seth Daniel

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A postal route can take up to six hours, so employees like Revere's Trev Coccimiglio become experts in dressing for frigid temperatures. 'Everything I wear, even the sunglasses, has a purpose,' Coccimiglio says.

There are days in the middle of summer when it’s quite a drag to be cooped up in an office, or stuck inside of a workshop or any other kind of indoor environment.

Then there are days like this past Monday, when the temperature was in the single digits and the cold was apt to bite to the core of even the heartiest soul.

On those days, an office seems just fine, but you won’t find dedicated postal workers like Revere’s Trev Coccimiglio in an office when the thermometer goes into negative territory.

You’ll find him and several other postal workers in the city bundled up from head to toe and ready to face many hours in the brutal cold.

One of the daunting tasks of carrying the mail on a daily basis in New England is facing the fact that at some point in the winter there are going to be days like last Monday.

Coccimiglio said getting through it requires preparation and experience.

“After 24 years, I know how to prepare and be ready. Most of our routes are at least six hours long – so we’re out on the street almost all of that time in this weather, and this kind of cold can be dangerous,” said Coccimiglio around 1 p.m. on Monday while walking his route on Ridge Road. “You can try to hurry, but you can only go so fast when it’s icy and snowy and cold. You have to be safe, so then you also have to be prepared for this kind of weather. It’s not so bad when the Sun’s out, but once that Sun goes down, it’s like someone just turned the heat down and the cold really starts to get to you. I’ll be out today until at least 6:30 p.m.”

On Monday, the Journal walked with Coccimiglio on part of his Revere delivery route (Ridge Road to be exact) to find out just how letter carriers make it through a workday in arctic-like cold.

Coccimiglio said the first thing is to dress heavily and appropriately.

On Monday, he was wearing four layers of clothing on his upper and lower body, and on top of that he had his official United States Postal Service (USPS) canvas winter uniform.

On his feet, he had a pair of regular boots, with a larger overboot on top. That overboot was also equipped on bottom with some special traction gear. He said he had several layers of socks on as well.

On his head, Coccimiglio had a facemask, sunglasses, a scarf, an official winter Postal hat, and even a hood over the hat.

“Everything I wear, even the sunglasses, has a purpose,” he said. “The glasses do cut down the glare, but really it keeps the wind out of your eyes. After several hours in this cold, your eyes will dry out terribly.”

The most important gear, he said, in such cold temperatures are good gloves.

“We have to work with our hands and sort mail and at the same time keep them warm,” he said emphatically. “Getting good gloves for that is key. You have to keep your hands and feet warm. If you don’t, it’s going to be a long and difficult day.”

Besides all of the bundling up, Coccimiglio said he has learned a few tricks.

One of those tricks is to get little hand warmers and use elastics to hold them on his wrists.

“That warms up all the blood going into your hands, keeping your hands warm and also keeping the hand warmers out of the way,” he said.

However, it’s the old Newtonian principle of staying in motion that Coccimiglio said is the best antidote to the cold.

“I have great customers on my route,” he said on Monday, as the thermometer pressed down on 10 degrees, though it felt like it was in the single digits. “Sometimes customers will offer me coffee or invite me in to sit down and warm up, but when it’s this cold you have to keep moving. The more you stop, the harder it gets. If you go inside to the warmth or even sit in the mail truck for 15 minutes, you start to sweat. When you go back out, that sweat starts to freeze to your skin and all the sudden you get really cold. So, it’s best to just keep on going. On these kinds of days, I don’t even stop for lunch. My wife packs me a sandwich and I eat it as I go. That’s the best way.”

Coccimiglio, however, said he has been humbled by the cold. He wasn’t always so well versed on surviving cold days. In fact, on one of his first cold weather runs, he was nearly brought to tears.

“In 1987, I didn’t have my uniform yet and I was wearing my own clothes and doing a route in Cambridge,” he said. “We had snow, sleet, wind, cold and everything that day. I wasn’t prepared and that was the worst day of my life. I was a grown man just out of college and I was pretty much in tears – didn’t think I would ever make it through another day as a mailman. I was so cold I thought I would die. But the next day came, and the next time I was better prepared.”

One of the best preparations, however, comes from customers on his route. Snow and ice are even more treacherous than the extreme temperatures on winter days, and letter carriers often have to walk around snow piles and on top of ice. Many times, even the most seasoned carriers fall.

“I’ve been on my route for many years now, and a lot of my customers are good to me,” he said. “Almost all of them shovel and clear a path for me. They watch out for me. Just making any effort helps. There are some who don’t shovel and that does make life harder.”

And, of course, those conscientious customers are also happy to put in a good word for their mailman on a cold day.

“He’s the greatest mailman and the greatest guy,” said Rita Ranzo of Ridge Road as Coccimiglio delivered her mail. “I think they must be insane having them get the mail out on a cold day like today. But, you know, how else are they going to get it here?”

The only way is to have workers like Coccimiglio trudge through the cold.

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