With the historical society’s ornament themed on Engine 6 this year, we are continuing to document some of the people who have played a part in this volunteer call company’s history. This week we look at firefighter Louis J. Nappi.

Louis J. Nappi was a longtime barber in the Thornton Heights neighborhood who also served as a volunteer firefighter at Engine 6. South Portland Historical Society photo

Nappi was born in Italy in 1904, named Luigi G. Nappi. When he was 16 years old, his parents decided to allow him to go to America so that he could have a better life. He came alone on the SS Canopic, steaming from Naples, Italy, to Boston, in 1921. He worked in several different states before coming to Maine to be nearer to his godfather.

In 1927, he married Mary Tenerillo. They lived for several years in her parents’ home on Newbury Street in Portland while Louie apprenticed at Kenneth Royal’s barbershop at 568 Main St. in South Portland. It appears that he had worked for Royal for at least five years before he took over the shop in the mid-1930s and renamed it Nappi’s.

He and Mary moved to South Portland in the 1930s where they lived on Tremont Street for a time. They bought their home at 17 Braeburn Ave. in August of 1942. Mary died in 1949 and, in 1958, Louie married Josephine Demarino. He sold the house on Braeburn Avenue, and he and Josephine lived at 24 Grandview Ave., just a short distance from Union Street.

Nappi’s Barber Shop was a landmark on Main Street for over 40 years. Anyone living in Thornton Heights in those years would know who Louie Nappi was. The barbershop was located in the long, one-story building that now houses Edible Arrangements and a few other businesses.

Louie Nappi’s barbershop was in the storefront on the right side of the building. This was just down the street from the Engine 6 station on Union Street. Louie volunteered at Engine 6 for many years. When a fire alarm sounded, it would be very easy for Louie to run down and make it onto the truck in time for the call. Louie also volunteered for the South Portland Police Department on the police reserves. Nappi retired from barbering in 1971 and enjoyed a long retirement before his death in 1997. He is buried in Calvary Cemetery.

I spoke with Lou Perrault this week about Engine 6. Lou is a current member of the call company.

He first joined the company back in the early 1970s when he was just 18 years old, so he has served for nearly 50 years. In addition to his service at Engine 6, Lou had a 30-year career as a professional firefighter with the Portland Fire Department, serving as captain at several different companies there. As he described his experience with Engine 6 over the years, it was very much a community builder in Thornton Heights, with firefighters from many different backgrounds and occupations.

Firefighter candidates had to be sponsored to become a member and many of the members would sponsor their sons to join the company. At the peak of the organization, there were 25 regular members, many substitutes, and it was not uncommon to see other family members hanging out at the station, as well. While the firefighters would get training, they would also plan outings together with their families involved.

Engine 6 also had a muster team that would compete with other area firefighting teams. Each team would sponsor a muster event on their home turf on a weekend with the firefighters competing at events like raising ladders, connecting hoses, and a variety of other skills. At one point, the Engine 6 muster team was ranked third in the state.

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 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 Capt. Phil Viola for more information at 749-5703 or by email at [email protected]

Note to readers: The South Portland Historical Society’s ornament fundraiser is underway. All seven of the ornaments, including this year’s Engine 6 ornament, are available at Drillen Hardware, Broadway Variety and Embers Stoves & Fireplaces.

Please plan to use cash or check for your ornament purchase as these businesses are very generously selling the ornaments on our behalf – all proceeds go directly to the historical society. You can also buy ornaments or other items from the museum gift shop by appointment; we use a contactless method, either on the museum porch or curbside. You can also have an ornament shipped (for an additional $5); please call the society directly at 207-767-7299 with questions or to make an appointment. Thank you for your support of the South Portland Historical Society.

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

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

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