Jeff Gomes routinely watched his father help others while accepting nothing in return. One memory in particular convinced him he wanted to be just like dad.
|Jeff Gomes, a lineman and member of Vacaville, Calif., Local 1245, is a recipient of the Jefferson Award, which honors volunteerism in America.
“I watched him get up in the morning and go over and help an elderly lady and cut her wood for the fireplace,” said Gomes, now a lineman for PG&E and a member of Vacaville, Calif., Local 1245. “She didn’t have a lot of money and he just helped her out tremendously. It was rewarding to go along and split the wood and stack it for her.”
Frank Gomes, his father, remembers that story well. The woman was 92 years old and had no one else to turn to, he said.
That spirit of helping others rubbed off on Jeff and led to him receiving one of the nation’s most prestigious honors for volunteers. He is a recipient of the 2016 Jefferson Award, named after Thomas Jefferson and awarded to people whose volunteer work makes a lasting impact on their communities.
The awards were founded in 1972 and now are administered by the Jefferson Awards Foundation and its board of directors. The foundation honors several hundred community volunteers from across the country each year.
Gomes has served as a volunteer firefighter in Orland, Calif., a city of nearly 7,000 residents about 100 miles north of Sacramento, for the last 26 years, including five as chief.
It’s made for a lot of long nights and early mornings and more than 15,000 hours of volunteering. Gomes insists he’s not much different than others living in small towns across the United States.
“A lot of communities can’t afford to pay for staff and services, so people step up and serve,” said Gomes, who oversaw a staff of 40-50 people during his time as chief. “Everyone has jobs, but they still get up at 2 a.m. to respond to calls. It’s just a way of life.”
“I’ve always enjoyed helping people and not expecting things in return,” he said.
Gomes grew up on a 20-acre ranch near Orland, where hard work was a given. Much of his day was spent taking care of cows. He and his three siblings were rewarded for pulling weeds with a trip to the town swimming pool.
“My dad instilled great moral character in me with his work ethic and his demeanor,” Gomes said. “He was an all-around great person and still is.”
Frank, now 74, has worked most of his life as a truck driver. He retired once, found it tedious, so he returned to work.
The elder Gomes learned responsibility early. As a teenager, his 27-year-old sister died of cancer, leaving behind four children. The father was out of the picture, so Frank helped his parents raise them.
He was determined to make sure his own children learned the value of helping others. But with Jeff, it didn’t take much effort.
“He was always a loving kid and loved helping people, just like I did,” Frank said. “I helped elderly people all the time and didn’t expect nothing for it. I tell kids all the time, ‘If you do something for someone, don’t expecting something in return.’”
Jeff spent seven years as a meter reader for PG&E before beginning his apprenticeship in 1999. He finished it two years later and has worked throughout northern California ever since.
“Once I got in as a groundman and started learning the trade, I had a great foreman who taught me a lot,” he said. “He was very patient. He taught me about being conscientious and safe. I enjoyed it.
“It’s a great career. I enjoy being outdoors when they turn people’s lights back on or something has been repaired. It’s nice to see the reaction.”
Throughout his career, he’s served on the Orland Fire Department, including as chief from 2007-08 and 2011-15. It came without pay, but it felt like a second job. Gomes said he could not have done it without the help of his wife Becky and his three children – Shayne, 26, Sarah, 22, and Natalie, 19.
“Thankfully, I have a very supportive wife and kids,” he said. “They were great. They had to deal with a lot of work after hours. When I was chief, I had to do the administrative duties and the training and the day-to-day operations. My pager was always going off in the middle of the night and I tried to make as many calls as I could.”
Local 1245 Business Manager Tom Dalzell said Gomes sets a terrific example for his 1245 brothers and sisters both on the jobsite and in his hometown.
“Doing excellent work on the job and playing an active role in the community is what we encourage from all our of nearly 20,000 members,” Dalzell said. “Jeff is the epitome of that. He does a dangerous job incredibly well and still finds time to serve others. I can’t tell you how proud we are of him. What a tremendous honor.”
Gomes also is a recipient of the Mielke Award, which PG&E awards to employees who exemplify the best in community service. Company officials also nominated him for the Jefferson Award.
The honor earned Gomes his first-ever trip to the East Coast last summer, where he did some sightseeing in and around Washington, D.C., and visited with Rep. John Garamendi, D-Calif., whose congressional district includes Orland.
He also got to mingle with other Jefferson Award winners. It proved to be a rewarding experience.
“I was never one that needed recognition for what I do and I would do it again in the future if I had to,” Gomes said. “But it was really intriguing and interesting to listen to all the different stories from every part of the country from people doing great things that I think makes our country what it is today. I can assure you volunteerism is alive and well.”