Tampa Fire Rescue's Driver/Engineer Gary Tinschert has been with Tampa Fire Rescue for almost 25 years, 10 of those at Tampa International Airport.
But he has been a hockey fan for as long as he can remember.
"I was a Rangers fan for 30 years up in Long Island – up where I'm originally from," says Tinschert. "When I came down here and they gave me my own team, I switched to the Lightning."
He has been a Lightning fan and season ticket holder since 1992, the year the team first started playing in Tampa Bay.
"When the Lightning came here, I stayed up all night on Kennedy Boulevard to get tickets to the first game," says Tinschert.
He was also first in line at the stadium on opening night, the Expo Hall at the Florida State Fairgrounds.
That's why it was no surprise that Driver/Engineer Gary Tinschert was chosen as the Tampa Bay Lightning's Boldest of the Bay, an honor that recognizes a Tampa Bay area police officer or firefighter during each home game. He is the first Tampa Airport ARFF firefighter to be honored.
"They gave us four tickets to the game, a plaque, and I got a new jersey," says Tinschert. "They also came to the station and taped a message that played while we were announced at the game. Anyone from the department who wanted to be in it was there."
The award was presented on February 21 during the home game versus the Boston Bruins.
But Gary is more than just a fan. He plays hockey in his spare time as well.
"Captain Carl Wolf and I started the fire department's hockey team over 20 years ago and we still play on it today," says Tinschert.
In 1995, when Tampa Fire Rescue hosted the Florida Firefighter Olympics, hockey wasn't included in the list of events. So Tinschert and his teammates added it. Fifteen teams participated – and it's still an event in the games today.
Tinschert, who earned a degree in Advertising Art and Design before becoming a firefighter, designed the cover of the program for the Firefighter Olympics and created special designs for each sport in the games to be used on t-shirts. As one of the biggest fundraisers of the event, Tinschert's unique designs helped to sell over $30,000 worth of t-shirts.
A piece of his art now hangs in the Tampa Bay Times Forum.
In 2012, Tinschert responded to the Lightning's call to Tampa Bay artists for submissions for the Celebration of the Arts exhibit. He was among the top 40 artists selected to feature art in the Forum out of over 300 pieces submitted. It's a 4-by-6-foot drawing of a firefighter - drawn with a simple ballpoint pen – that took over three months to complete.
Tinschert says that it's great to see his art hanging in the Forum, and he enjoys seeing fans stop by to look at it while he's there.
And it's been so popular with fellow firefighters that Tinschert has agreed to produce the artwork to be featured on t-shirts for sale locally.
But, he added that he will be happier when it goes to its permanent home.
The artwork will hang in the Tampa Bay Times Forum for one year. After that, Tinschert will return the art to its original home at the Hope Children's Home, a Tampa facility for abused and orphaned children ages 2 to 18.