PENSACOLA — When Egas “EJ” Gomes joined Gulf Power in 2015, he fit right into the company's hyper-vigilant safety culture that’s defined by the mantra “be your brother’s keeper.”
He’s lived by that code since serving two tours of duty in Iraq. And armed with battlefield first aid training, the Energy Services project manager has never hesitated to spring into action to render aid to fellow soldiers, Iraqi civilians and total strangers.
When two motorcyclists were involved in an accident on U.S. Highway 98 in Gulf Breeze in late spring, he was the first to stop and help the victims, putting aside his own safety until he could hand off the care to emergency responders.
For his valor, Gulf Power awarded Gomes the Power of Life of Award, which recognizes an employee whose actions resulted in the life of another person being saved or sustained in a situation of imminent danger. Gomes is the 25th employee to have received the award since 2003.
Stan Connally, Gulf Power chairman, president and CEO, presented the award to Gomes on Sept. 7, during a leadership team meeting, saying his actions exemplify the commitment employees make to each other every day.
“It’s a pleasure to have you on the team,” Connally said. “To see you demonstrate that kind of aid to another human is completely worth the Power of Life Award.”
'IT'S SECOND NATURE'
John Floyd, Energy Efficiency & Renewables manager, nominated Gomes for the award.
“I was not surprised to hear that EJ jumped in to render aid in this situation,” he said. “It is just who EJ is — always willing to put others first. He is a great example of living the safety values we strive for here at Gulf Power, whether at work or home.”
Gomes was humble about being honored for something he said is instinctual.
“In the Air Force, we trained a lot in first aid and buddy care,” said Gomes, who is now a major in the Air Force Reserve. “It’s second nature.”
That training kicked in when he was returning to his South Santa Rosa County home, traveling east on U.S. 98 through Gulf Islands National Seashore’s Naval Life Oaks, where he witnessed two motorcycles collide, sending their riders flipping across the pavement after a vehicle drifted into their path.
Gomes had spent several days in a training course, and his mind was focused on getting home to his wife, Shannon, and their three children. Flowers he planned to give her on Mother’s Day were on the seat beside him.
The minute he saw the riders, a female and male, flip, hit the ground and slide across the pavement, he knew they’d be hurt, and he immediately pulled off the road and went to their sides.
“I was the first person who was able to stop and render aid,” he said. “The woman was bleeding, but she popped up and went running to the man.”
Gomes said the male rider appeared to have more serious injuries. Blood spilled from gashes on his face, head and wrist and pooled around him.
“When the woman realized I was helping the man, it was like her adrenaline ran out and she fell out as well,” Gomes said. “The man was unconscious, and in pretty rough shape.”
Several minutes into the response, the man began to stir. Fearing the rider might have head, neck and possibly spinal cord injuries, Gomes worked hard to keep the man immobile while trying to apply pressure to the injuries and stanch the bleeding with his bare hands.
As other bystanders arrived on the scene, he took control of the situation, asking bystanders for compresses and for help to keep the victim still, as he regained full consciousness.
“I didn’t have anything to work with, but my military instincts are pretty assertive,” Gomes said. “A guy came back with a pair of tube socks. I wrapped them tightly around the wound on the wrist.”
Finally, an ambulance arrived and the emergency responders took over. That’s when Gomes realized he was covered up to his elbows with the victim’s blood. A police officer gave him some antibacterial wipes to clean up.
Cognizant that he may have contracted a blood-borne pathogen, he sought medical care to confirm he was not infected with anything.
“All the labs came back negative,” said Gomes, whose awareness of the risks were fresh on his mind due to safety training he recently had at Gulf Power.
NOT THE FIRST TIME
Gomes is a native of Boston, and lived in Georgia before moving to Northwest Florida in 2007. He served active duty at Hurlburt Air Force Base in Mary Esther; and at Eglin Air Force Base, Fort Walton Beach; and Tyndall Air Force Base, Panama City.
This was the third time in recent years he was the first on the scene to render aid to victims. Twice when he was traveling to Orlando for family vacations, he found himself stopping to help accident victims.
“On one trip, we were stopped at an Interstate 10 rest area and heard a car fish-tailing and coming into the semi-truck parking area at a high rate of speed. It was obvious the brakes were out. The car broadsided a tree,” he said. “I was holding my newborn daughter, but instincts kicked in, and I started running toward the accident.”
His wife, Shannon, yelled to give her the baby, as Gomes rushed to the car along with a family friend, who grabbed some paper towels for Gomes. The victims, three family members, were all injured. He rendered first aid. In another incident, a planned family vacation to Disney World was nearly cut short when he assisted a woman who attempted to commit suicide by running her vehicle into a tree on the interstate.
And Gomes has dealt with some pretty tough situations in Iraq, including a time when he aided a comrade to recover a deceased Army soldier who wrecked when the brakes on his fuel truck failed coming down the side of a mountain.
He also provided first aid to an Iraqi civilian after he was sprayed with hot asphalt.
“We were teaching Iraqi civilians how to make asphalt for runways with their equipment, and their asphalt plant blew up. One of the men came out screaming and staggering, covered in hot bitumen. There was not much we could do but to try and cool him off with water. I rushed him to the hospital on base.”
Since the Iraqi civilian did not have credentials to be on base, Gomes had to pull rank on the gate guards to demand they let him on base to get the severely injured man to the hospital. The man survived but suffered disfiguring injuries.
Gomes said he’s thankful to work for a company that shares his values.
“Situations like these really cause me to reflect on all the things I am grateful for in life … God, who gave me the opportunity and the courage to be able to help the victim; the training I received from the Air Force; and Gulf Power, which helped prepare me to respond effectively during the incident,” he said.
“It’s awesome that Gulf Power takes the time to recognize folks this way, and I’m a true believer that we are ‘our brother’s keeper.’”