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State fire marshal, state attorney look at WFLZ-FM radio stunt gone bad

TAMPA — A turkey-frying stunt Friday by the MJ Morning Show injured a firefighter, destroyed a van and alarmed fire department officials, who say the intentional blaze was unauthorized.

Tampa fire spokesman Capt. Bill Wade said he was "very disappointed."

Officials from WFLZ-FM 93.3 were not available to comment.

The DJs used a crane to drop a turkey carcass through the open roof of a plumbing van that had a vat of burning oil inside. An inflatable snowman stood near the van's open side doors. Clear Channel broadcast the whole thing live from its studio parking lot at 4202 Gandy Blvd.

For the first few minutes, the broadcast focused on a large silver pot smoking on a burner inside the open van. Then the smoke turned to flames that shot through the van's roof.

When the turkey finally reached the pot, flames engulfed the van. Radio employees ran around the van, first laughing, then trying to put it out with handheld fire extinguishers.

"How we going to put this thing out?" one DJ asked.

"I don't know," said another, laughing.

Tampa firefighters soon arrived in full gear and began spraying down the van. Wade said Capt. Ken Licata, 47, a 26-year veteran of the fire department, hurt his back during the incident and was hospitalized.

"Capt. Licata was wearing his full firefighting gear, and in pulling the [hoses] off the truck, he injured his back," Wade explained.

Licata went home several hours later but was not available for interviews, Wade said.

Initial reports said a Clear Channel employee was injured, but fire crews said they did not treat anyone other than Licata, and radio station officials said no staff members were hurt.

Wade said the station did not have a permit for the stunt, nor emergency crews on standby.

"I am not happy," Wade said.

He said officials from the State Fire Marshal's Office are handing the investigation over to the State Attorney's Office to determine if charges should be filed.

The State Attorney's Office said it will not be able to determine if there will be any charges until the fire marshal's investigated is completed.

Someone who answered the cell phone for DJ MJ, or Todd Schnitt, declined to comment. Other WFLZ representatives were not available.

According to the show's Web site, "Management wasn't very happy with how Fester (a character on the radio show) handled the situation so they removed him from the morning show."

In a later statement, the station said: "Like we've done several times in the past, our intent was to show how dangerous it is to cook a turkey in this type of situation. We were prepared to extinguish a modest fire. Once the fire got out of control, we quickly called the fire department.''

Several years ago, WFLZ got permission from Tampa Fire Rescue to set a trailer on fire, Wade said. One of the station's interns was in firefighting school, and the DJs wanted to demonstrate what she'd learned.

That time, the station went through all the correct avenues before the stunt. "We did it right," Wade said.

After that, Wade said there was an understanding that the station needed permission anytime DJs planned to set anything on fire.

But about a year ago, Wade said WFLZ planned another stunt without letting authorities know. They wanted to put a bunch of fireworks in a stove and heat them up to see if they'd light. They didn't go through with it, Wade said.

"Now, today we're down here with a grease fire inside a van," Wade said. "This was not a public service, this was not an educational demonstration. This was a stunt."

Wade added, "It was just dangerous all around."

State fire marshal, state attorney look at WFLZ-FM radio stunt gone bad 12/18/09 [Last modified: Friday, December 18, 2009 11:02pm]
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