Budget Problems Prompts PA. Deputy Chief To Voluntarily Resign

It was mid-November when Scott Davidson took stock of himself. He would give up his passion.

A firefighter with York City for nearly 26 years who had risen to the rank of deputy chief, Davidson had heard that the city's upcoming budget funded only one of the two deputy chief positions.

"I didn't want to lose my job; however, I thought I was in a better position to leave," he said.

Although he and Richard Halpin had been appointed to deputy chief at the same time, Halpin is nearing age 56. Davidson is 50.

"I was younger, I could go and get a job somewhere," he said.

If Davidson chose to stay, he would be demoted to assistant chief, and the most recently hired firefighter would be laid off.

The day after he heard about the cuts, Davidson walked into Mayor John Brenner's office.

"I will volunteer to leave," he told him.

On Monday, Davidson was sworn in as a York County deputy sheriff.

Father's footsteps: Davidson's father, David A. Davidson, was a career firefighter with the city from 1955 to 1977, working at Station No. 9 at the corner of Roosevelt and Maryland avenues. In the summer and on weekends, the young Davidson would walk from his North Hartley Street home and bring his father lunch.

"I was always around the fire station and the firefighters. I looked up to them," he said.

As soon as he was eligible, at age 17, Davidson became a fire department volunteer.

That was 1970, before there was an academy to go to. Volunteers were assigned to their "mother," a fire department term for the training officer, who at the time was Lt. Louie Klein.

They learned on the job, eventually doing everything a career firefighter would, except drive the trucks.

For Davidson, adrenaline was the attraction. Waiting for the bells to hit. Jumping on the back of the truck. Fighting the fiery beast.

In 1971, Davidson graduated from York County Vocational-Technical School, now York County School of Technology, having received training in automotive mechanics.

"I was a motorhead back then," he said. "I used to like hot cars, anything that was fast."

But his real love was firefighting, and he planned to make a career out of it. After several years at York Wallpaper -- and a failed firefighter test several years before -- he tried again, passed the written, physical and oral tests and was hired in 1978.

For five years, he worked as an all-station swing man, filling in for vacationing veterans. With a little seniority, he put in for Station No. 1, at the corner of East King and North Duke streets, "because that was the busiest one," he said.

He reveled in the brotherhood that exists among firefighters, forged in life-and-death situations.

Davidson worked for 13 years before he began taking the tests to become an officer, but that would mean day work, and at a desk no less.

But he remembered the words of Klein, who told him that even if he didn't want to take the tests, take them anyway. One of these days you might change your mind, and when you do, you'll already be prepared, he said.

"That's what I tell the young guys," said Davidson.

He was promoted to lieutenant in 1996, made assistant chief two years later and in 2000, was appointed to deputy chief by then-Chief David Love and then-Deputy Chief John Senft. Shortly thereafter, Love retired and Senft took over as chief.

Progressive leader: Senft, who volunteered with Davidson in the early 1970s, said of him, "I think he's very forward-thinking."

Although as a deputy chief he was away from fighting fires, Davidson said he respected the ideas of those who were still on the front lines. One of his tasks was to purchase equipment, including expensive items like ladder trucks and pumpers. So, he went to the firefighters who used the trucks. He gave them the book of specifications and said, "tell me what you want."

"These guys are out there on the street, making us (administrators) look good," he said. "Sure, you need leadership, but you need good guys on the other end."

He excelled in grant writing, succeeding in receiving two $25,000 grants from the state and also a $42,000 grant from the Federal Emergency Management Agency to train 35 firefighters as codes inspectors.

When Davidson, Senft and Halpin took over as administrators, they decided on a more progressive approach to dealing with the media, Davidson.

"Years ago, when you went to a fire, it seemed nobody took the time to talk to the media," he said. "We always figured we could get out more accurate information if we talked to the media."

Davidson often served as the department's public information officer, fielding questions from the media at major fires in the city.

An end, a beginning: But even as a firefighter, Davidson has long had an interest in law enforcement. After his swearing-in as a sheriff's deputy Monday, Davidson spent the better part of the day filling out paperwork. Yesterday, he received training in restraints. Today, he starts a five-day course in firearms. Within a year, he must attend an academy in State College for 19 weeks.

"I met most of the deputies in the last two days, and I've known some of them before," he said yesterday. "They're a great bunch of people ."

He's certain that, like the fire department, a brotherhood exists among the deputies, and he looks forward to being a part of it.

"He's the kind of person I want in my office," said Sheriff Bill Hose. "If I could get 50 like him, I'd really be in great shape."

Davidson said he's not worried about dealing with inmates, many of whom could be dangerous. Most of them will be handcuffed, he says. "When somebody points a gun at me, I might have a different opinion," he said. His wife Kim said she's not worried about his new job any more than she was with his old one. "I wasn't one of those wives that lost sleep when he left -- when he was working night work, I didn't have a concern about him not coming home." When asked to sum up the past two months, Davidson says, "I think everything happens for a reason -- I try to stay positive in whatever I do."