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Massive manufacturer located in tiny South Dakota town

The wail of sirens. The flash of lights. The brightness of colors.  

All parts of a firetruck, used to quickly catch a person’s attention as emergency personnel roar down the road, heading to a fire, an accident or other emergency. These types of fire and rescue apparatuses are something that many times are taken for granted, simply because they are there when they are needed.  

Now, imagine working for a local company that designs, creates, and manufactures these life-saving vehicles.  

Rosenbauer is that company. Located in the tiny town of Lyons, South Dakota, Rosenbauer got its start in 1975 and was known Lyons Garage. The company, which was started by Lyons’ residents and owners of the local gas station/welding store, Harold and Helen Boer, began when they built the first fire truck for the local volunteer fire department.  

In 1982 they incorporated as Central States Fire Apparatus. After a few years, and after designing and building trucks for other local fire departments, in May of 1998, Central States Fire Apparatus partnered with Rosenbauer.  

The company has grown exponentially, joining with several other divisions over the years and now has locations in Minnesota, Nebraska, South Dakota, and even Austria.  

Currently, approximately 500 fire trucks and rescue vehicles are manufactured at the South Dakota plant along with another nearly 300 between the Minnesota and Nebraska factories.  

With close to 400 manufacturing employees, Lyons goes from a nighttime population of 75 residents to a daytime one of over 450. These employees create about 40 trucks a month, with it taking about 365 days from order to delivery.  

Locally, in Lyons, Rosenbauer builds “Ford and Chevy” type trucks, the ones that volunteer fire departments purchase with funds raised locally.  

But, that is definitely not all they do. Depending on the buyers’ needs, trucks can get worked on at several campuses before being completed. From a pumper truck that needs 1300-1400 man hours to build, to an aerial truck that takes double that, it’s the intricate details that each truck demands that Rosenbauer takes such pride in.   

From their very first loan, hand written on a piece of paper, to today’s needs, the South Dakota Governor’s Office of Economic Development (GOED) has been there to help if possible.  

Bill Palmer, Rosenbauer America Compliance Officer, said that GOED is fantastic for the state. He explained that the support from the governor’s agencies has been great and that GOED has helped with their previous expansions.  

“They come out to help anytime they can,” he said.  

“And the work ethic in the state can’t be matched anywhere else. Not just from a Rosenbauer standpoint either. Fire departments come in and notice this and how the employees handle themselves,” said Palmer.  

Rosenbauer is looking to do a major expansion, doubling their size by 2026. With the expansion, the company plans to look towards more options with robotics. The use of robotics would not take away an employee’s job, but it could change how that employee does their job.  

Palmer explained that the COVID crisis had Rosenbauer looking at different avenues and how they could continue to work without ever having a layoff. They succeeded, due in part to the high demand for truck production, but also due to the company’s work ethic, ideas, and success.  

Some of that success comes from Rosenbauer’s ideas and accomplishments of their new fully electric firetruck. Rosenbauer is the first manufacturer to take firetruck production from horse and buggy to combustion engine to now, an electric rescue vehicle that has all of the functions of other units, but countless other benefits.  

Palmer noted that the electric firetrucks will be able to operate quietly. Also, the whole truck can be operated by a tablet that can run the lights, sirens, pumps, and so much more. The company is also working to design clean cabs. With so many cancer-causing carcinogens, using a clean cab will help firefighters be healthier, and potentially live longer.  

With some sort of fire apparatus on every continent, including Antarctica, it’s amazing to learn the story of how a small, two-car shop went from building a rig for the local department to today, having vehicles in over 100 countries, who respond to an emergency every 84 seconds.  

South Dakota Governor’s Office of Economic Development

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