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Cain alternate for final in NCFPD's first Firefighter Demolition Derby at Del Mar

Joe Naiman

Village News Reporter

The Fallbrook Firefighters Association had a driver in the Firefighter Demolition Derby for the first time since the event became part of the San Diego County Fair, and North County Fire Protection District firefighter/paramedic Zach Cain was the alternate for the final of the June 11 event.

"We all had a great time, look forward to next year," Cain said.

In 1995, the Cajon Speedway, the Burn Institute, and local fire departments collaborated for an annual night which included fundraising and promotions for the Burn Institute and a Firefighters Destruction Derby (which was renamed the Firefighter Demolition Derby in 2017).

The Burn Institute and local firefighters also collaborated on an annual exposition at Qualcomm Stadium. Cajon Speedway closed after the 2004 season and there was no Firefighters Destruction Derby for five years, but in 2010 the Fire and Safety Exposition was moved to the San Diego County Fair and the demolition derby was reinstated.

The configuration of the Del Mar Arena necessitated some changes. The cars are now divided into heats. The 2023 format had three early afternoon heats with the last two running cars in each heat advancing to the final and two last chance qualifier heats in the late afternoon, which allowed the final remaining car from each of those to compete in the main event. The driver from the fire department which raised the most money for the Burn Institute is also allowed to drive in the final if he has an operational car.

In 2013, another difference between Cajon Speedway and the fairgrounds demolition derby was recognized. Cajon Speedway had a regular fire crew with a truck to extinguish vehicle fires. The fair used fire extinguishers for the first four years. Ten years ago, the car of CalFire firefighter Angel Hendrie became engulfed in flames. Hendrie was unhurt and changes were made to reduce the risk of car fires. One of those was the presence of suppression teams, with a truck as well as a firefighting crew, at each end of the arena. The Pala Fire Department was stationed at the north end of the arena this year while a Rancho Santa Fe Fire Protection District truck and crew were on the south side.

Stormy McInerny drove a Fallbrook Firefighters Association car when the Firefighters Destruction Derby was held at Cajon Speedway, but no North County Fire Protection District driver subsequently competed until Cain drove this year. McInerny, who was with the North County Fire Protection District for 32 years, passed away three weeks after his retirement in 2019.

Cain, who began his NCFPD career as an Explorer, knew McInerny. The demolition derby car was built on the property of NCFPD engineer/paramedic Brent Itzaina, who has been with the fire department for 29 years and also knew McInerny.

"We all miss Stormy McInerny way too much," Itzaina said.

Cain, who is now 27, was 16 when he commenced his NCFPD activity at the Explorer level. He graduated from Fallbrook High School in 2015. Cain has been a full-time fire service professional for six years. He began his full-time professional career with the Poway Fire Department and handled Poway fires and medical emergencies for three years before being hired full-time by the North County Fire Protection District. He has been a full-time NCFPD professional for three years and is currently based at Station 1 in Downtown Fallbrook.

In 2019, Cain drove for the Poway Fire Department in the Firefighter Demolition Derby. When the Fallbrook Firefighters Association decided to participate in the 2023 event, Cain was asked to drive.

A 1976 Oldsmobile Cutlass in Los Angeles was acquired through Craigslist. The car was converted into a demolition derby vehicle in less than two months with four or five firefighters working regularly to convert the vehicle. Including those who were involved in fundraising activities, approximately 12 people altogether helped with the effort.

This year 21 drivers were in the Firefighter Demolition Derby. Five fire departments had two vehicles. Cain was in the second heat along with Bonita-Sunnyside Fire Protection District engineer/paramedic Robert Marcon, Carlsbad firefighter/paramedic Matt Newlin, Escondido firefighter/paramedic Alex Koji, Lakeside Fire Protection District captain Danny Leetch, Rancho Santa Fe Fire Protection District engineer/paramedic Jake Elkins and San Marcos Fire Department engineer Brian Meredith.

A carburetor fire forced the fire suppression crew to tend to Cain's vehicle. A red flag was thrown and Cain was relegated to the last chance qualifier. Although fuel burned from the carburetor fire there was no other damage to the car.

The second last chance qualifier consisted of Cain, Marcon, Meredith, Combat Center (Twentynine Palms) firefighter Dylan Hubbard, Imperial Beach firefighter/paramedic Jorge Martinez and Miramar firefighter Justin Fite. Meredith, Marcon and Fite eventually broke their flags, signaling that they could no longer continue.

Cain hooked up with Martinez's 1976 Chevrolet Malibu. Neither car was moving. Hubbard was declared the winner of the last chance qualifier.

"It was a bummer we got hooked on that bumper," Cain said. "We did great, but we got hooked up."

"We had a great time," Cain said.

Encinitas firefighter/paramedic Donnie Butz won the Firefighter Demolition Derby for the second consecutive year. The 16 fire departments combined to raise approximately $100,000. The Fallbrook Firefighters Association raised approximately $6,200.

"It's for such a good cause," Cain said.


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