His breath hitched in his throat.
A 911 call had taken him to Interstate-805 through Chula Vista. His heart rate increased as he got closer, the ambulance racing down the freeway.
He counted seven bodies, a couple of which had incredibly small frames – babies, ejected onto the road.
There was a surge of adrenaline in his body as his mind and his muscles moved as one to help the victims, falling back on his schooling and training.
At 21, Jayson Summers was a brand new paramedic, made suddenly aware that he would be seeing things you couldn’t teach out of textbooks.
“As traumatic as that call was, it was also very rewarding because we did save some people,” says Summers, the newly appointed Fire Chief of Coronado.
Longtime Coronado Fire Department firefighter
City Manager Tina Friend announced late last month the promotion of Summers, a 17-year veteran of the department. He starts April 1, in his new role.
“Chief Summers is an outstanding candidate who has the level of experience and expertise to be a constant and steady leader,” said Friend in a statement. “He has been a dedicated member of the Coronado Fire Department for the past 17 years, and I know he will excel in his new role. I am proud that our fire department has produced such a great leader, and we were able to fill this position from within. I look forward to Jayson continuing to serve our community with dedication and commitment in his new role.”
With 22 years of emergency service experience, he currently serves as Coronado’s division chief overseeing Fire Prevention and Emergency Management.
He oversaw the city’s Emergency Operations Center, hazard mitigation planning, fire safety inspection program, public education and life safety awareness training, according to Friend.
He also managed the city’s emergency medical services throughout the COVID-19 pandemic.
Further, during the past 12 years, Summers has responded to numerous disasters across the states of California, Washington, Nevada and Arizona with FEMA, according to Friend.
He has a Bachelor’s of Science in Public Safety and Emergency Management, and he has over 40 fire service certifications, according to the city.
He also serves as adjunct faculty for Southwestern College’s Higher Education Center, which is responsible for producing future EMT’s, paramedics and firefighters.
Paramedic to chief
He’s tall even sitting back in his chair in his office, his salt and pepper hair neatly gelled up.
Summers recently talked with The Coronado News about his transition to chief and how he wants to serve Coronado.
Summers was focused on being a physician, and becoming a paramedic was the first step to achieving that dream; but that call 19 years ago quite literally changed his life, helping him make the decision to stay in public safety, he says.
Shortly after, he enrolled at Palomar Fire Academy.
Summers was hired six months later at the Imperial Beach Fire Department before moving a year later to the Coronado Fire Department, where he’s stayed since 2005.
“And I realized, I was like, ‘wow, this is an exciting career. You really are making a difference,’” he says.
But that difference he and so many other public safety officers make doesn’t come easy.
Mental health within the fire department
“Most people will never see a traumatic event in their entire lifetime. Whereas a firefighter I’ll see, you know, hundreds of them. And when I say traumatic event, I mean something that can trigger and cause PTSD,” says Summers.
A study done by the Ruderman Family Foundation in 2018 showed there had been more firefighter and police officer suicides in 2017 than in line-of-duty deaths; and as fire chief, Summers aims to take on the responsibility of making sure his firefighter paramedics are taken care of.
“If you’re not okay, that’s okay,” he says. “Because you’re a human.”
Summers leans back, crossing his fingers together in his lap.
“The most important thing is, you know, making sure that you’re also taking care of your family,” he says.
The 5-9 after his 9-5
Sprinkled throughout his office are fragments of his personal life, photographs of his wife and of his two young children.
He and his wife, Alicia, have been married since 2012.
Summers chuckles as he recounts his schedule as a firefighter paramedic.
“We just celebrated our 10-year [anniversary], and we realized it was the first time in our entire time together that we had weekends off together,” he said with a big laugh. “Crazy.”
And just as work sees his private life, his life at home contains his job as fire chief.
At around 5 p.m., Summers will go home and walk through the front door to Alicia and the boys.
It’s the end of his work day, but it really isn’t.
As his kids sit in his lap getting homework help, in the back of his mind is his city and his firefighters, waiting to help if he’s needed.
“As a fire chief, you’re constantly working…it’s a 24/7 responsibility,” he says.