La Mesa firefighter wins this year’s Firefighter’s Destruction Derby at county fair
La Mesa Fire Department firefighter Seth Perrins won this year’s Firefighters Destruction Derby that was contested June 4 and was part of the Fire and Safety Exposition at the San Diego County Fair.
“I wasn’t anticipating it. It’s my first time doing it,” Perrins said. “I was learning everything as I was going.”
In 1995 the Cajon Speedway, the Burn Institute, and local fire departments collaborated for an annual night that included fundraising and promotions for the Burn Institute, a pre-race parade of fire trucks, an American flag raised from a fire engine ladder for the Star-Spangled Banner, and a Firefighters Destruction Derby. The Burn Institute and local firefighters also collaborated for an annual exposition and burn run at Qualcomm Stadium.
Cajon Speedway closed after the 2004 season, but in 2010 the Fire and Safety Exposition was moved to the San Diego County Fair and the Firefighters Destruction Derby returned after a five-year absence. Some changes due to the configuration of the Del Mar Arena were necessary. The parade of fire trucks takes place earlier in the day and now also includes ambulances, the flag is not raised from a ladder inside the covered arena, and the cars are divided into heats. The current format involves three early afternoon heats with the last two running cars in each heat qualifying for the final, two last chance heats in the late afternoon to allow the last remaining cars in each of those heats into the concluding competition, and the final itself.
The tasks include converting a car into a demolition derby vehicle and also raising money for the Burn Institute. The La Mesa Fire Department raised approximately $3,800 to donate to the Burn Institute. Perrins drove a 1997 Buick Riviera that was donated to the fire department. Approximately half a dozen firefighters and paramedics worked on the car, and the conversion to ready the Buick for the crashfest was approximately a two-month process.
A total of 17 drivers created two six-car heats and one five-car heat. Perrins was in the second heat along with Brandon Ihde of the Coronado Fire Department, Alex Koji of the Escondido Fire Department, Dustin Kuhn of the San Diego Fire-Rescue Department, Will Lansdown of the Viejas Fire Department, and Danny Leetch of the Lakeside Fire Protection District.
Perrins was eliminated from that heat early. “The first heat I didn’t do so well, and I thought it was going to be the end of the day,” he said.
The last chance heats were consolidated into a single heat due to the number of cars that were not drivable for the last chance qualifying event. Perrins was one of six drivers in the last chance heat. Because the last chance heats were consolidated, the final two drivers advanced to the final. Chris Paddock of the El Cajon Fire Department had the last running car in the last chance heat, but Perrins was one of the final two drivers and the Buick had one additional competition.
When final driver Chris Wrisley of the Lemon Grove Fire Department broke the flag on his car to signal that he could no longer continue Perrins and John Olsen of the Imperial Beach Fire Department became the only two drivers remaining. Track officials rule a driver to be eliminated if the car has not moved for more than two minutes, and after Olsen’s vehicle was pushed on top of a disabled car he was timed out and Perrins became the 2016 champion.
Perrins, who was raised in Santee and currently lives in El Cajon, has been with the La Mesa Fire Department for just over a year. He is currently based at Station 13 on Grossmont Boulevard.
“I’m glad I got the opportunity to do it, and I’ll be back next year,” Perrins said.