A smiling man with white hair wearing sunglasses and fire department uniform standing with arms crossed

Mendocino Fire Department Chief, Eugene “Foggy” Gomes, 1990. (Kelley House Collection, Kelley House Photographs)

November 20, 1956 – Mendocino Volunteer Fire Chief Foggy Gomes added another achievement to his credit, other than being “a mere fire chief.” The Fire Department’s Ladies Auxiliary declared him the Champion Pie Eater of the department. When the ladies gave their annual pie feed to the volunteer firefighters, Foggy came out well ahead of all others. When asked how come he ate so much pie, Foggy answered, “Hell’s bells, they were good.”

Eugene L. Gomes was born in Mendocino in 1923 to Joe and Aileen Gomes. In elementary school, a teacher nicknamed him “Foghorn Charlie,” which was later shortened to Foggy.

Foggy proudly served his country in the Navy on the U.S.S. Sterett during World War II. He gained firefighting experience during the war, and when he returned to Mendocino, Dr. Russell Preston asked Foggy to take a look at the fire department’s aging equipment. Upon his retirement in 1997, Foggy told the Beacon what happened next, “I got those old fire trucks going and [the fire chief] old ‘Doc’ Preston was so happy he said they’d just make me chief. I’ve been chief ever since.” He served as the fire chief of the all-volunteer department for 53 years.

The Mendocino Volunteer Fire Department website lists his many accomplishments, “Under his leadership, MVFD grew into a modern fire department. A keen judge of character and a natural leader, Chief Gomes was instrumental in keeping the volunteers motivated. He also excelled at fabricating firefighting equipment from inexpensive used vehicles, like the Department’s first tanker truck, made from an old Chevy truck chassis. […] Chief Gomes took a department that was on the edge of collapse at the end of World War II, and built it into a modern fire department. The residents of Mendocino owe Chief Gomes a debt of gratitude for the Department that exists today.”

The Volunteers: History of the Mendocino Volunteer Fire Department by Walt McKeown and Linda Wilson – Recounts the great fires since 1870, countless heroic rescues and the camaraderie and struggles involved in keeping an all volunteer force intact from 1887 to the present day. $15.