By Joe Naiman
Ramona resident Ehren Kahle won the Firefighters Destruction Derby at the San Diego County Fair on Saturday.
“It feels great,” said Kahle. “When you can raise money to send kids to camp, burn-injured children, and have a blast
doing it, there’s nothing more rewarding than that.”
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, a U.S. flag raised from a fire engine ladder for the “Star-Spangled Banner,” and a Firefighters Destruction Derby.
The Burn Institute and firefighters also collaborated for an annual exposition and burn run at Qualcomm Stadium.
Kahle began his demolition derby career in 2002 at Cajon Speedway.
“We could really get some running starts,” he said.
The Cajon Speedway closed after the 2004 season, but in 2010 the exposition was moved to the San Diego County Fair.
Some changes due to the configuration of the Del Mar Arena were necessary. The parade of fire trucks takes place earlier in the day, the flag is not raised from a ladder inside the covered arena, and the cars are divided into heats.
The current format includes two early afternoon heats with the last three running cars in each heat advancing to the finals. A pair of last-chance heats in the late afternoon allow the last remaining car in each of those two heats entry into the final crunchfest that follows the cleanup activity from the second last-chance heat.
Having the burn exposition as part of the county fair has resulted in the attendance of more children, who are a major target of fire prevention outreach measures.
“Out here we can get more of a family crowd,” Kahle said.
The derby had 17 cars with nine in the first heat and eight, including Kahle, in the second. Rainbow Volunteer Fire Department driver Mike Ballester, Robert Marcon of the Bonita-Sunnyside Fire Protection District, and Brandon Massey of the Viejas Fire Department advanced to the finals from the first heat. Kahle advanced from his heat along with Lakeside firefighter Danny Leetch and Barona driver Jake Murrell.
The finals also included last-chance heat survivors Joe Lavigne of the Lemon Grove Fire Department and Mike
Shoemaker of National City.
Kahle’s final hit on Massey turned out to be the end of the event, which was followed by Kahle receiving the Steve Brucker Memorial Trophy named after the Cajon Speedway promoter who helped initiate the derby.
“It’s a great win for him,” said Imperial Beach Fire Chief Tom Clark. “He worked really hard on getting it together.”
Saturday’s win was the first for a driver from the Imperial Beach Fire Department, which has one station and nine firefighters.
“It’s incredible,” said Clark. “Small group of guys did a good job.”
The Imperial Beach firefighters also raised approximately $3,600 for the Burn Institute.
Kahle’s win was the second consecutive one for a Crown Victoria. Marcon was the 2013 winner. (Lavigne won the 2012 derby in a 1976 Lincoln).
“Even after all that beating out there, this thing still runs,” Kahle said.
The Imperial Beach firefighters spent approximately six months working on the car.
“I’ve been trying to find a car just to be able to participate in the event since November,” Kahle said.
The Police Interceptor came from the U.S. Marshal fleet. The federal agency retires its vehicles after 97,000 miles.
“We will try to get a car similar to this so that we can re-use all of our parts,” Kahle said.
Kahle moved to Ramona when he was in sixth grade and attended Hanson Lane Elementary School, Olive Peirce Middle School and Ramona High, graduating with the Class of 1994. He then participated in the emergency medical services program at Palomar College.
Kahle lived in Fallbrook from 1999 to 2001 and was with the Rainbow Volunteer Fire Department before accepting a paid position for American Medical Response. He moved from Fallbrook to Temecula in 2001.
In 2002, Imperial Beach Fire Department hired Kahle as an engineer and paramedic. His first day on the job was Feb. 10, 2002, and within six hours he was back in Fallbrook as a member of a strike team fighting the Gavilan Fire. He was also on a strike team later that year to fight the Pines Fire in Julian.
During the October 2003 fires he had station duties in eastern Chula Vista, and he covered the Imperial Beach station while co-workers were on strike teams for the October 2007 fires.
Kahle spent a week in Northern California in 2008 on a strike team fighting wildfires outside of Yosemite and in the Ukiah area.
He continued to live in Temecula until December 2012, when he returned to Ramona on property with a cabernet sauvignon vineyard. His parents own Woof’n Rose Winery & Vineyard, and he supplies grapes to supplement his parents’ vineyard.
As the major sponsor for the Imperial Beach Fire Department entry, Woof’n Rose Winery was printed in bold letters with the winery’s logo and “Ramona Valley” on the hood of the car.
Ehren and Stephanie Kahle have two children: a 10-year-old son and an 8-year-old daughter.