Local firefighter, arts leader relocates to otherwordly spot

Everett is now the fire chief of the Karl G. Jansky Very Large Array, located in central New Mexico.

Jason Everett, who is well-known to many islanders for his work for more than two decades in two distinctly different high-profile jobs — first as the director of Vashon Allied Arts (now called Vashon Center for the Arts), and then, as a career firefighter and emergency medical technician (EMT) — has found yet another one-of-a-kind calling.

Everett served as the arts center’s director from 1998 to 2005, before first becoming a volunteer and then a career firefighter with Vashon Island Fire District.

But in late March, after taking early retirement from his firefighter job, Everett, now 53 years old, relocated to central New Mexico, near the Plains of San Agustin, where he is now employed in what he calls “the coolest job in the world,” as fire chief of the Karl G. Jansky Very Large Array (VLA).

The VLA, a federally-funded research and development center of the United States National Science Foundation, is an installation of 28 parabolic dishes — each 82 feet in diameter — which work in tandem as the most powerful radio telescope in the world. The site is one of many around the world run by the National Radio Astronomical Observatory.

Founded in 1980, the VLA has drawn some of the world’s most renowned astronomers, who have used the facility to probe the far corners of the universe and make important observations about everything from black holes to the atmospheres of other stars, among almost countless others.

The site has also been used as a location in any number of science fiction movies, perhaps most famously in “Contact,” a 1997 film starring Jodie Foster.

Now, it’s Everett’s workplace, where he said he is exhilarated to play a supporting, safety-focused role in the ongoing scientific discovery happening at the observatory, as the fire chief of the VLA and the emergency services manager for all of the National Radio Astronomical Observatory’s sites, worldwide.

In a recent phone call, Everett described himself as being a huge “space nerd” as a child, fascinated by a book called “Red Giants and White Dwarfs,” which his father read to him. The book, he said, made the scale of space understandable.

“It turned me on as a kid,” he said, explaining that he had also been in a band called “Little Green Men,” while later living in Minneapolis as a young adult. The band, he said, was featured in a special UFO edition of Omni Magazine, a well-known science and science fiction magazine.

The composer Gustav Holst’s orchestra suite, “The Planets,” also deeply influenced Everett as a young musician, he said.

Everett, throughout his career as an arts executive and firefighter on Vashon, has continued to compose, produce, perform and record music, with his work as a bassist and multi-instrumentalist receiving ongoing accolades and recognition.

His music-making will continue in New Mexico, he said.

Still, despite Everett’s excitement to work at the VLA, he said, in a recent phone interview, that he looks back on his decades on Vashon with both pride and deep fondness.

“I have been honored and privileged to serve the island for so many years as a firefighter/EMT and as the director of the arts center,” he said. “Vashon is an amazing community and I will miss it.”