Archive for Sunday, July 27, 2003

Firefighters’ TV stunt under review

July 27, 2003


— Three Wichita firefighters have caused a stir within the department after a stunt on a national late-night talk show in which one set his chest hair on fire.

Now, their actions are under review.

Even the local firefighters union president calls the July 10 gag, performed before millions of viewers of "The Tonight Show with Jay Leno," an "irresponsible act" because it contradicts what firefighters preach.

"We don't encourage our kids to do dangerous stunts," said Wichita fire Capt. Doug Pickard, president of the International Association of Firefighters, Local 135. "What kind of message did we send them?"

On Friday, one of the firefighters defended the stunt. Lt. Mike Corns said because it was a late-night show, the firefighters thought children wouldn't see the skit.

Corns said they took precautions on stage and followed local fire regulations. They also tried to represent themselves only as private citizens, not members of the Fire Department.

"It's supposed to be three crazy guys to entertain people," he said. All three were off-duty.

Leno introduced the stunt with the warning: "Remember, don't try this at home." Then firefighter Lloyd Cox ignited the hairiest part of his chest with a wand-type lighter. The hair flamed for a few seconds, then he patted it out. At the same time, Corns and firefighter Dave Shonka shot their fire extinguishers at him.

Shonka declined to comment, and Cox could not be reached.

The Wichita Fire Department is reviewing the incident, Chief Larry Garcia said Friday. But he would not discuss any possible discipline against the firefighters.

Garcia did not mince words about the stunt, calling it "idiotic, at the very best." He viewed a tape of the episode after it aired.

Garcia also accused Leno, the host of the late-night talk show, of poor judgment for allowing such a skit. A spokeswoman for Leno's publicist declined comment.

Corns said he and the other two firefighters did not want to present themselves as firefighters while on the show, only as entertainers, he said. They even declined to wear firefighter equipment, though urged to by the show's staff, Corns said.

But in light banter with Leno, Cox said he was a firefighter from Wichita.

The three did take precautions, Corns said.

Cox used a fire-retardant gel on part of his chest.

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