The Rosenbauer Group has not always been one of the largest distributors of fire apparatus and employer of nearly 1,500 workers. Rosenbauer started from modest roots and had to work hard to become the company it is today.
Johann Rosenbauer, the founding father of the company, started the Linz Volunteer Fire Brigade with a few friends from a gymnastics club and began selling fire fighting basics in 1866. Johann’s son, Konrad, was the commander of the Linz Volunteer Fire Brigade and at the beginning of the 20th century, expanded the company’s trading activities to include the production of pumps and hoses. In the 1920s, Rosenbauer began to establish a name as a fire fighting vehicle manufacturer and since then has launched innovation after innovation onto the market, thus capturing a reputation as the innovation and technology leader in the fire fighting equipment branch.
During the 1990s, the company evolved from being an exporting crafts enterprise to a global concern with industrial manufacturing. Moreover, the systematic internationalization of the past fifteen years has seen the development of new Group companies, e.g. in the USA, Singapore, China, and the opening of additional markets. During this phase, the workforce has virtually doubled in size and roughly half of the Group’s personnel are now employed outside Austria.
Today, Rosenbauer is one of the world’s leading manufacturers of fire fighting vehicles and is represented by a sales and customer services network in over 100 countries. The Group’s core competence lies in mobile fire and disaster protection, particularly with regard to the development and production of the very latest fire fighting systems and firefighting vehicle superstructures. Rosenbauer produces a complete portfolio of fire fighting vehicles according to both European and US standards and provides the fire services with a full range of equipment through the combination of vehicles with extinguishing systems and an extensive equipment program.
In 1994, Rosenbauer launched a systematic internationalization strategy and one year later gained its first foothold in the US market. Today, Rosenbauer America consists of four companies at three locations and has become the #2 company in the US fire fighting equipment sector.
As far as involvement in the USA was concerned, three principles were determined in Rosenbauer’s internationalization strategy. Firstly, the company did not wish to begin with its own production, but rather sought a suitable local production partner. This was due to the fact that the differences between the fire fighting worlds in the USA and Europe are too great, as are discrepancies with regard to technical standards, operational tactics, and vehicle design. This is evident to anyone seeing an American fire truck standing next to its European counterpart. Therefore, the aim was mutual learning within a partnership, progressive technology transfers, and the creation of products on the basis of joint know-how.
Secondly, Rosenbauer was aware of the individual legislation that characterizes the municipal fire service market in the USA and was conscious of the fact that this could not be conquered in a rapid process. Accordingly, the aim was to work with partners on the spot who were familiar with the peculiarities of the US sales system and to develop a joint market approach.
Thirdly, US companies should enhance the international strength of the company. A number of countries around the world are NFPA-oriented, which means that they adhere to the standards of the American National Fire Protection Association
In 1995, General Safety Equipment became Rosenbauer’s first partner in the US. The company, which is based in Wyoming, Minnesota, was founded in 1929 by Kevin Kirvida’s, the current president, grandfather. General Safety firmly established its tradition of manufacturing top-of-the-line apparatus in 1950, when General Safety’s production work for military bases received the U.S. Army-Navy’s E Award, the highest recognition given to civilian companies. Over the course of the next four decades, the company’s reputation continues to grow. General Safety now produces pumpers, aerials, airport crash vehicles and industrial units. They are regarded as one of America’s leading providers of finely crafted, customized fire apparatus. Today, it forms the General Division of Rosenbauer America.
1998 saw Rosenbauer’s entry at Central States Fire. The company, which was started by Harold and Helen Boer, began as a modest welding and vehicle refurbishment business in the mid-1970s. Central States Fire was founded in 1982 when Harold, chief of the Lyons, South Dakota, Volunteer Fire Department, was asked to equip an apparatus unit for the department. In less than five years, the company was producing 50 trucks annually for Midwestern fire departments. Today, the company is characterized by industrial production that is strongly oriented towards the fulfillment of individual customer wishes. When it became a partner and officially created Rosenbauer America in 1998, Central States was already active in 32 states, and today, Rosenbauer America has virtually full national coverage. In 2016, Harold & Helen retired from the day-to-day management activities of Rosenbauer South Dakota. The Rosenbauer America board named Scott Oyen, Chief Executive Officer of the South Dakota Division.
Two years later, in February 2000, the team was further enlarged with RK Aerials. The company, which is located in Fremont, Nebraska, was founded in 1988 by Rob and Pam Kreikemeier and manufactures hydraulic turntable ladders and aerial platforms. It is one of the few companies in the US to not only offer steel ladders, but also hot-dipped galvanized versions, which have a far longer service life. Production began with only four employees in a 5,000 square foot building. By 1995 RK’s staff had grown to 11. A 20,000 square foot production area was added to handle their annual output of 12 aerial ladders. In just three years, the staff grew to 35, and it was necessary to double the plant’s size to 40,000 square feet. Today, RK Aerials produces ladders and platforms in various lengths and both are available in mid-mount or rear-mount designs. The Aerials Division rounds off Rosenbauer’s vehicle range for the US domestic market and supplements the program of Metz Aerials in Germany.
Rosenbauer obtained further key technology with the chassis production for the Panther ARFF vehicle. Since 2003, the chassis have been manufactured at Rosenbauer Motors, which is found at the same location as the General Division. The chassis is the most expensive purchased part of the ARFF vehicle.
2004 saw the next logical step. For the first time, the four US companies appeared at the largest US fire service trade fair, the FDIC (Fire Department Instructor’s Conference) together under the “Rosenbauer” umbrella brand and the shared slogan, “Ready to serve.” This sent out the clear and unequivocal message to the market that the exhibit was being presented by one of the largest suppliers of fire fighting equipment in the world, which is able to cover every fire service need. In retrospective, this was a type of ignition because since then, numerous new sales partners have opted for Rosenbauer America, and the market share in the US has been enlarged from around eight to 12% in recent years. Consequently, Rosenbauer has established itself among the leaders in the US fire fighting equipment market.
Today, the internationalization program launched 12 years ago is on a successful course. The world’s largest single market, with a volume of over 5,000 fire fighting vehicles per year, has been penetrated via Rosenbauer America. In addition, the Group has also gained international competitiveness, as the US subsidiaries not only complete production for the domestic market from Canada to Mexico, but also supply the Caribbean and parts of Central and South America. Rosenbauer is now able to quote wherever contracts for fire fighting vehicles according to the NFPA standard are put out to tender.