We are happy to announce that the latest edition of the South Portland Historical Society’s Christmas ornament is available now. For 2020, we took inspiration from the Thornton Heights Engine 6 call company’s 1941 Mack fire engine.

Members of this neighborhood call company have lovingly restored their old fire engine and the public gets to see it whenever we have a parade in South Portland. If you look closely, you can see some of the members of the volunteer fire company inside the cab and standing on a running board on the side of the truck as it is about to leave the station on a fire call.

The historical society’s 2020 ornament is now available for purchase at Drillen Hardware, Broadway Variety and Embers Stove Shop. Courtesy image

This is the seventh in a series of historically-themed ornaments. With the idea and efforts of board member Chuck Igo, the South Portland Historical Society began this fundraiser in 2014 with the release of its Bug Light ornament. Subsequent ornaments have included Fishermen’s Point and Portland Head Light (2015), the Liberty shipyards (2016), Red’s Dairy Freeze (2017), Portland Harbor – Spring Point Ledge Lighthouse and Fort Gorges (2018), and the Cape Elizabeth Depot train station (2019).

All seven of these ornaments are available for sale through the historical society and its retail partners. Each ornament is cast in a durable metal with a beautiful brass finish, and comes in a protective cloth bag. It also includes a card with some historic details and which lets a gift recipient know that proceeds from the sale of each ornament go directly to the South Portland Historical Society and its museum.

These ornaments are available for $20 each at the checkout counters of our three retail partners: Drillen Hardware, 460 Cottage Road; Broadway Variety, 771 Broadway; and Embers Stove Shop, 581 Main St.

Ornaments are also available directly through the historical society, by appointment. We will ship ornaments in a sturdy ornament box for an additional $5 to cover postage and handling; please call us at 207-767-7299 to place your order. You can also order them through eBay.

To capture some of the history of the Thornton Heights fire station, we can turn to a history written by South Portland Fire Department firefighter Steve Hayworth in 1975 and updated by Joe Nalbach, Jr. and David Littlefield in 1993. A copy of that history is preserved in the archives of the historical society.

This call company dates back to the early 1920s. In 1923, the overpass/bridge on Main Street/Route 1 was being worked on, and the resulting detour through the side streets of Thornton Heights had residents feeling uncomfortable about the ability of the South Portland Fire Department to respond to emergency calls in their neighborhood. Many other neighborhoods across South Portland already had their own volunteer call companies at that time.

Ferry Village had its Engine 1 on School Street, Willard had its Engine 2 on Pillsbury Street, and Pleasantdale had Engine 3 on Robinson Street, all of which had been formed in the 1890s. Even Cash Corner had a small call company, Engine 5, but that station was on the other side of the bridge/overpass leading toward Thornton Heights.

Thus in 1923, a group of men in the Thornton Heights neighborhood formed their own new volunteer call company, known originally as Hose Company No. 6. This company consisted of 20 men, including a captain and two lieutenants. They received hand-me-down equipment from the other call companies and set up their base of operation at the Thornton Heights Garage on the corner of Main Street and Ardsley Avenue.

As with the other volunteer call companies, these neighborhood stations allowed for a quick response to any fire and also served as an excellent source of community building.

In 1939, the city built a fire station at 15 Union Street that became the permanent home of the Engine 6 call company. According to Hayworth’s history, “The station was constructed with lumber from trees felled by the hurricane of 1938.”

The city purchased a brand new 1941 Mack 500 GPM (gallons per minute) pumper truck that was delivered to the station on Jan. 8, 1941. It was at this time that the call company changed its name from Hose Company No. 6 to Engine Company No. 6. The Engine 6 company operated the 1941 Mack from 1941 until 1966 when it was replaced by a 1949 Ahrens-Fox 1,000 GPM pumper truck (which had been previously used by the Engine 5 company).

That Ahrens-Fox was replaced in 1972 by another hand-me-down truck, this time the 1964 American LaFrance 1,000 GPM pumper that had previously been used as Engine 8. In 1982, the city bought a new 1981 Mack-Ward 79 750 GPM pumper for the Engine 6 station. Today, the Union Street station is home to one of the largest industrial foam engines in the state. Called Engine 46, the 2002 Ferrara Foam Pumper is capable of pumping 1,500 gallons per minute; it has 500 gallons of water, 500 gallons of Class B foam and 30 gallons of Class A foam.

According to the city website, the 2002 Ferrara “responds to all types of emergencies here in the city as well as being a first due engine to aircraft incidents at the Portland International Jetport.”

Some of the early Engine 6 firefighters were representative of this community, as were many of the company’s lifetime members. A short list of some of the people who have served at Engine 6 over the years includes: Cedric W. Brigham, owner of Brigham’s Variety store on the corner of Main and Union Street; Louis J. Nappi, owner of Nappi’s Barber Shop at 568 Main St.; Hollie Harrison, a milk man who lived on Main Street; Hugh Flynn, a three-term city councilor who bought Black’s Variety on Main Street and then ran it as Flynn’s Variety, and Bob Flynn; Jack Hayworth and Steve Hayworth; Joe Nalbach, Jr.; and Lou Perreault.

The current captain of Engine 6 is Philip Viola.

Both the Engine 6 (Thornton Heights) and Engine 2 (Willard) call companies are looking for volunteers. While these firefighters were originally unpaid volunteers, the city does now provide some compensation, so these are now considered paid/on-call positions. The city of South Portland also provides all of the necessary equipment and training. If this sounds interesting, please contact Captain Philip Viola for more information at 749-5703 or by email at [email protected]

Kathryn Onos DiPhilippo is executive director of the South Portland Historical Society.

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