Brave and Proud


Appearing on the Today show with Matt, Katie, Al and Ann would more than likely make even the most self-assured person a little nervous.

After all, millions watch the live NBC morning show whose perky female co-host pulls in $13 million a year.

But Philadelphia Fire Capt. Richard Davison says he wasn’t nervous at all when he recently participated in a contest on Today. The professional bodybuilder, who trains at Fitness Works at Seventh and Reed streets, says he’s used to competition.

Davison, 36, and his three Philadelphia teammates first appeared on the program July 9 as part of a seven-week contest called "The Bravest and the Finest." The segment airs every Tuesday around 8:30 a.m.

Eight teams, consisting of firefighters and police officers from cities across the country, compete in obstacle-course events that test skill, speed, strength, daring and sense of humor. The high jinks unfold in Rockefeller Plaza in front of Matt Lauer, Katie Couric and hundreds of spectators.

Wearing khaki shorts and T-shirts bearing the contest’s name, Davison and his teammates — Firefighter Dave Zborowski, police Officer Burton Lee and police Sgt. Joanne Beres — faced their first opponent July 9.

The show’s producers called for a rematch after it was unclear whether Philly and New Orleans had both understood the rules concerning one task that involved floating a ball out of a water-filled tube.

At last Wednesday’s rematch, Davison brought along his wife April and their two sons, Jordan, 11, and Kyle, 15, for good luck. It apparently worked, because Philly made Creole out of its Cajun competitors.

Now the team advances to the semifinals Tuesday, when it will face St. Louis. The group that wins the Aug. 20 finals will earn a charitable contribution for its hometown.

Davison says "The Bravest and the Finest" is entertaining and helps a good cause. Plus, Today picks up the tab for round-trip train tickets and hotel rooms in Manhattan for the four Philly team members.

Does Davison think Philly is going all the way?

"I hope so. I have confidence in our team. We work well together as a team."

Philadelphia Fire Commissioner Harold Hairston asked Davison, a 10-year fire department veteran, if he would be interested in representing the city as a member of the team. Davison says he came to the commissioner’s attention by being in the right place at the right time.

Born and raised in the Wilson Park development at 25th and Ritner streets, Davison and his family have lived on the 2000 block of Emily Street for the past decade. His wife of 12 years, a St. Maria Goretti graduate, was his high-school sweetheart and prom date.

Davison attended St. Edmond’s School and St. John Neumann. After he graduated high school in 1984, he enlisted in the Navy for a four-year stint, then went to work for Great Bear spring-water company before joining the Philadelphia Fire Department in 1992.

He laughs when it is noted that both his jobs involved large volumes of water.

"And both jobs, you have to wear a uniform!" Davison interjects.

Unlike many of his fellow firefighters, he did not follow relatives into the profession. In fact, the captain says he originally wanted to be a police officer. But his father-in-law, a retired cop, encouraged him to take up firefighting instead.

"He felt I would be happier and more successful doing that. It started out as a job, but now I really love it and I look at it as a career," Davison says.

Asked if the uncertainty and danger of the job frighten him, he answers without hesitation. "Always. Any time you go out the door, you’re in danger. But that’s our profession. We adapt well to dangerous situations. Everybody’s running away and we’re running to."

Davison’s first post was at Engine 5 at 42nd and Market streets. From there, he was transferred to Engine 24 at 20th and Federal streets, where he made lieutenant. Once a firefighter makes rank in the department, he must be transferred, notes Davison. So it was on to Engine 19 in Germantown for the newly appointed lieutenant, and eventually Engine 50 at Broad and Glenwood streets.

Davison made captain after scoring "well" on the exam, he says. Actually, he did far better than well, but admittedly modest, he wishes to leave it at that.

In December 2001, he was offered the job of apparatus officer, one of the positions in the department open to captains. (Apparatus refers to ladders and engines.)

Davison, now based at the Fire Administration Building at Third and Spring Garden streets, is responsible for 63 engines, 48 Medic units, 39 ladders and more than 30 staff and chief cars. He works as the liaison with the shop that repairs and maintains the equipment. In addition, Davison deals with complaints from field fire personnel who report any problems with their equipment. The captain also is charged with purchasing and inspecting new apparatus.

Davison admits he’s ascended the ladder rather quickly because he "stayed in the books" — a firefighter’s expression, he notes.

To graduate to the next rank in the department, firefighters must read and study numerous books and manuals and then take the appropriate exams, Davison explains.

He also credits many positive role models within the fire department for helping him stay focused.

These days, Davison is still very much "in the books." He is enrolled in the two-year Associate Arts Fire Science Program at Community College of Philadelphia.

He also spends plenty of time in the gym, and is a card-carrying member of the American Natural Bodybuilding Association.

Being a firefighter has taught Davison to respect fire and dangerous situations, he says.

"It has helped me become a good supervisor, and it has helped me be able to communicate with people better. Most of all, it helps me appreciate life. Being in certain situations helps you understand that life is not guaranteed.

"I love my job as a firefighter."