Friday, October 23, 2009

Antique Fire Department

Shady Grove Antique Fire Department
Est. 1968

I recently received this email on a local Brookhaven Hamlet institution which I would like to share.

The Shady Grove Antique Fire Department was started in 1968 by Jim Verni of Brookhaven, Long Island, New York. Jim is originally from Baldwin, New York, where he was a member of Hose 2 of the Baldwin Fire Department in 1950. At that time, one of the fire trucks housed at Hose 2 was a 1929 American LaFrance type 92 which he responded to and sometimes drove to alarms.

He was later married to his wife Mary and purchased a delicatessen on Hastings Street in Baldwin. At this time he could no longer volunteer at the Baldwin Fire Department. Jim and Mary Verni moved to Brookhaven, New York and opened up another delicatessen in 1957 after selling the one in Baldwin. Years later in 1961, Jim Verni joined the Brookhaven Volunteer Fire Department.

In 1968, a customer came into the deli and said he had just purchased an old fire truck that had been used on Fire Island for several years. Jim found out that it was the same truck that he had ridden on and driven when he was in the Baldwin Fire Department. It was in real bad shape but it still had the word “Baldwin” painted in big letters on the hood. Jim bought the truck for $500 and restored it with the help of family and friends and put it in local parades.

In 1969, Jim acquired a 1942 Ahrens Fox Piston Pumper originally from Harrison, New Jersey model #HT3457 and restored that also. Jim later found out that the Ahrens Fox had quite a history of its own. The Ahrens Fox Company stopped manufacturing fire trucks between 1942 and 1946 to build parts for the war effort. Only one truck was built during this time from spare parts in stock with serial # HT 3457. It was nicknamed the War Baby. Jim being an Army veteran that enlisted in 1946 was very proud to show of the War Baby and tell about its history.

Then in 1970, one of Jim’s friends found a 1924 Model-T Ford, which was already restored to a Chief’s car. It had the name Shady Grove Antique Fire Department lettered on the door, thus the Shady Grove Antique Fire Department was born. Later on in 1973, Jim, now being Chief of the Brookhaven Fire Department, purchased a 1926 American LaFrance Type 75 Pumper with a 1915 Tiller Ladder from Pennsylvania and again had his family, friends, and fellow firefighters help restore it. In 1976, Jim purchased a 1941 Mack L-Model 650 gpm Pumper from the Baldwin Fire Department and also restored that. In 1976, Shady Grove Fire Department was up to five rigs which appeared in musters and parades throughout the Tri-State area.

In 1981, Jim Verni sold the 1929 American LaFrance and the 1924 Model-T to a collector in Springfield, Missouri. In 1985, he sold the 1926-1915 American LaFrance Ladder Truck to a collector in Tennessee. In 1987, Jim sold the 1941 Mack to his son, Michael also of Brookhaven. In 1989, Michael also bought the 1942 Ahrens Fox from his father and sold the Mack to a collector in Boca Raton, Florida. In 1990, Mike bought a 1929 Ford Model-A and restored it into a Chief’s car. Jim never pumped the Fox while he owned it but Michael wanted to see how powerful the HT models were. Mike was able to get in touch with Kurt Nepper of Ahrens Fox. He had buildings full of parts and sold Mike all the parts needed to rebuild the pump. The Fox now pumps 1000 gallons per minute and participates in pumping events along with other Foxes at musters.

In 1997 Michael, without his father’s knowledge, found out where the 1929 La France was located in Missouri. He purchased it, brought it back to Brookhaven, and restored it yet again (sixteen years after Jim sold it). It was the truck that started the whole Shady Grove tradition. It was very important to Mike that the first fire truck that his father drove in Baldwin in 1950 stays in his family forever. Jim inspired his whole family to volunteer in the Brookhaven Fire Department. Mike Verni is a 34-year member and ex-Chief, his brother and brother-in-law are 35-year members and his sons and nephew are also members of the Brookhaven Fire Department.

The three trucks that now make up the Shady Grove Antique Fire Department are housed in a garage behind Michael Verni’s house and appear in local Fire Department parades and musters. The next generation is ready to take the wheel but Mike is not ready to retire any time soon he has too much fun just riding around town. For more history and pictures please visit our website at which is still under construction or email Michael Verni at

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