Lindstrom’s new volunteer fire department needed a motorized fire truck. That proved a pricey proposition for the rural hamlet in the 1930s, so Mayor Elmer Abrahamson, a blacksmith by trade, offered to build one.
Word of Abrahamson’s truck spread, and other cities asked him to build them fire trucks, too. The orders piled up, and Abrahamson founded General Safety Equipment.
Today, the family-owned business, now named Rosenbauer America, is the second-largest manufacturer of fire engines in the United States. The more than 850 customized fire engines built at its factories in Wyoming, Minn., and Lyons, S.D., each year are shipped throughout North America and around the world. Demand is so great there’s a one-year backlog of orders. The company employs more than 400 workers in Minnesota and an additional 350 in South Dakota and Nebraska.
Abrahamson’s grandson Kevin Kirvida is president of Rosenbauer Minnesota. Kirvida’s decision to join forces with another family company, Rosenbauer International in Austria, in 1995 transformed this modest family business into an international success story. The American company is privately held, making sales and revenue numbers private, but consider that the starting price for each customized vehicle is around $350,000, with larger “crash trucks” designed for airports and hazardous materials facilities eclipsing $1 million.
The company is still in expansion mode, increasing the size of its operations with the goal of grabbing an even larger share of the market for firefighting vehicles.
“We intend to increase our market share in the United States of municipal trucks as well as crash trucks,” Kirvida said.
They’re doing that by listening to their customers and using that feedback to improve design and serviceability.
Many of the company’s customers, including fire chiefs and civic leaders from around the world, visit the Chisago County factory to see their trucks being built. The visitors range from Twin Cities fire chiefs driving up for the day to the New York Port Authority leadership to Saudi Arabian diplomats.
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