Southern Manatee firefighters to light a blaze on 'Good Morning America'

jdeleon@bradenton.comJuly 9, 2014 

MANATEE -- Most firefighters put out fires.

In southern Manatee County, however, firefighters are hoping to set off a five-alarm blaze when they heat up ABC News's "Good Morning America" this week.

Southern Manatee Fire Rescue is one of about nine semifinalists in GMA'S 5 Alarm Firefighters Challenge. The hot prize: $10,000.

Starting Wednesday morning, GMA will air two semifinalist videos per day, and audiences will vote to narrow the competition down to three finalists.

Members from each crew will then fly to New York to compete live in physical, skill-based and/or knowledge-based competitions next week.

Southern Manatee's video, already on YouTube, is quickly gaining attention in Manatee County.

Grabbing most viewers' attention is the topless appearance of firefighter Justin Sperko throughout the video: from the weight

room, to inside a fire truck, to being pulled down a paddle board on the Braden River.

If Southern Manatee makes it to the finals, Sperko, along with firefighters Christi Hollins and Richard Gatanis, will travel to New York.

"I can't believe all the shifts came together when we put the word out," Hollins said. "Everybody has totally supported it."

Hollins came up with the idea when a relative posted the contest on her Facebook wall. Brainstorming for an entire 24-hour shift with fellow firefighters on ideas for a script, Hollins also reached out to Gatanis on a separate shift, who is their video expert.

With permission from Chief Brian Gorski, the video quickly came together with only a few days before the deadline for submissions. The videos are all set to the Capital Cities song "Safe and Sound."

With time against them, Gatanis came up with the idea for one of the guys to appear topless showing off his muscles.

"He asked him to do that and to be that infamous shirtless guy," Hollins said. "Originally, we were going to do a flash mob kind of thing."

The video features a mixture of firefighters from all three shifts at Southern Manatee Fire Rescue.

"About 30 of our guys and girls showed up," Gorski said.

The chief said if Southern Manatee wins the $10,000, it will go toward training.

"These guys and girls wanted to look at some different aspects in training that, because of budget cutbacks, they couldn't," Gorski said. "If we get this money, it would allow them to get some more hands-on training."

Jessica De Leon, Herald law enforcement reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7049. You can follow her on Twitter @JDeLeon1012.

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