Custom Fire Apparatus - 1978-present - Osceola, Wisconsin


CustomFIRE Apparatus, Inc. (CustomFIRE) specializes in the creative design and custom manufacturing of new structural fire apparatus and rescue squads.

CustomFIRE has the expertise to outfit fire fighters with the exact apparatus they need. From the mini / mid pumpers, to the largest pumper or rescue squad, our custom capabilities give you the most for your investment.

CustomFIRE stands alone in the industry with our unique "concealed" all-bolted premium construction style, and the renowned Full Response trademarked crew compartment. Bolting a body is universally considered to be a superior method of assembly. Bolted construction provides for mixing construction materials and selecting each metal candidate according to its best function. Bolted construction also ensures ease of future revisions and reparability.

CustomFIRE perfects each apparatus with Pro-E engineering software and then laser cuts each part to ensure a technologically advanced precision fit, and an "unmatched" high standard in parts accuracy and quality.

History of CustomFIRE As featured in the Iowa Firefighter Newspaper June 2002 issue by Jeff Gargano
Wayde Kirvida’s roots in the fire truck building business go back four generations to the days when horse-drawn wagons were still being used to fight fires in Lindstrom, MN.

Wayde’s great-grandfather, Elmer Abrahamson, had a blacksmith shop, was the town’s mayor and was on the local fire department. When his town needed a fire truck, Abrahamson built them one. Others saw what he had created and the business took off from there.

Abrahamson's daughter was dating Mitchell Kirvida, who was from a Russian farming family. When they married, Kirvida joined the thriving business, known as Minnesota Fire Equipment. Later, Mitch’s son, Jim, joined his grandfather and father learning their traditional values.

The values Jim learned early on with his grandfather and father became the bedrock of their own father and son company, Custom Fire Apparatus, Inc. (CustomFIRE). Now his son, Wayde, represents the fourth generation of fire truck builders in the business.

CustomFIRE was incorporated in the late 1970’s. Jim started building pickup mounted grass rig units in a 40' by 40' airplane hangar in Osceola, WI. The company quickly outgrew the airplane hangar. "I think with the roots of the company, we can identify with the small volunteer fire departments. Dad tells the story of how they would tape off half of a truck and paint it, then paint the other half because the hangar was so small," Wayde Kirvida said.

In 1982, the City of Osceola approached Jim Kirvida about purchasing a vacant aircraft factory across the taxiway from the airplane hangar he was using.

"The building was much larger than he needed. It was so big, that when he moved the shop in, there was still plenty of room for Jim and his friends to race cars around inside," Wayde said. Today, the company occupies 45,000 sq. ft. and employs 35 people who custom build 30 to 36 trucks a year.
Wayde said his father developed the Full Response® cab that really gained popularity in the late 1980s.

"The natural progression was to have a cab where firefighters were enclosed in a safe environment," Wayde said. "He gained a reputation for being innovative and for addressing needs in a more efficient manner. The word "custom" wasn't used much when he started the company. Today, a lot of builders say they build custom vehicles. But we build what departments want," Wayde said.

Wayde said gaining the Waterous pump line was a huge bonus for the company in the beginning.
"CustomFIRE was the new kid on the block. When Waterous awarded us the pump line, it allowed us to serve key customers in St. Paul, the twin city suburbs, and Wisconsin," Wayde said.

The company consistently grew into offering more elaborate and complex products- pioneering the use of electronic valves and stainless steel for apparatus bodies and crew cabs.

Wayde got into the business at age 14, working summers and Christmas break, cleaning up and sweeping floors. As he got older, he started making deliveries and attending shows. He worked with the various departments in the company.

While obtaining an engineering degree from Marquette, Wayde did an internship with Waterous Company in St. Paul, working with the pump design engineer. "It was a very positive experience. Plus I was able to work with people I'd seen at trade shows since I was five-years-old," Wayde

After college, Wayde worked as a design engineer for six months before coming to work at CustomFIRE. He did design work for three years before going into marketing and sales in July of 2001.

"We're interested in growing recognition of the company. We're taking a grass roots approach. Quality in the product line comes first," Wayde said.

"We build unique, heavy rescue vehicles that might go to a haz-mat site, a vehicle accident, or a train wreck. We do command vehicles. We recently gained the Tele-Squrt product line. We still do a lot of
re-builds, a lot of mini-pumpers and elaborate pumpers," Wayde said.

He said the trend among fire departments is combining multiple functions into one unit.

"With more limited manpower, departments are looking to combine several functions, like pumpers and tankers or pumpers and rescues," Wayde said.

More and more people commute outside of their community to work, and most towns are too small to finance a full-time department. "The younger generation, mine included, doesn't understand the value of the fire department. Until you need their help, you don't think about it. I was getting my hair cut and the lady said she never thought about where fire trucks come from," Wayde said.

Kirvida said the competition is extremely tough with at least 75 fire truck builders across the country.

"There's roughly 5,000 trucks sold each year, and three or four companies build about half of those. So the competition for the rest of the trucks is high. I envy the larger builders for the glamour. But I don't
like what happens to the quality as they get larger," Wayde said.

Kirvida said every town is different in the layout of the city, the personnel on the department and more.

"We've even designed trucks based on how tall firefighters are. That's what "custom" building is all about. When you get so big that all your customers become a bar code, then you lose identity with your customers," Wayde said.

Wayde said CustomFIRE prides itself in how it computer designs each part, using a computerized laser to cut it and send it to fabrication for precision fit. Another unique aspect of the company is they bolt all of the bodies together.

"Some companies weld their bodies, similar to how a dumpster is built," Wayde said. Bolting a body is universally considered to be a superior method of assembly since bolted construction provides for mixing construction materials and selecting each metal candidate according to its best function. Bolted construction also ensures ease of future revisions and reparability.

CustomFIRE’s process is gaining international recognition. The former fire chief of Johannesburg, South Africa, was in the area visiting a supplier when he stopped in to see how a local fire truck manufacturing company operated.

"He liked the way we did things. He asked CustomFIRE to develop fire truck bodies that could be shipped and put together in South Africa. By individually packing the parts, CustomFIRE was able to send nine body kits to South Africa in two 40' containers with room to spare. If the bodies were assembled in the U.S. and shipped, it would take four or five containers.

Smaller trucks are being designed to carry more equipment. "With fewer firefighters able to respond to calls, there needs to be more functions combined on one unit. We're designing trucks with a lot of capacity in a small package," Wayde said.

"There are so many builders in the marketplace. We're not the cheapest fire truck. There are a lot of lower cost builders. But I remind the customer, you really do get what you pay for. When there's an emergency, you want the best equipment and you want it Built for Life." Kirvida said.



For more information please read:

Jeff Gargano - CustomFire - Iowa Firefighter, June 2002

Walter M.P. McCall & George H. Dammann - American Fire Engines Since 1900

Fred W. Crismon - Fire Engines

Bob Dubbert - Encyclopedia of Canadian Fire Apparatus

Donal M. Baird - A Canadian History of Fire Engines

Phil DaCosta - One Hundred Years of America's Fire Fighting Apparatus

Bill Hass - History of the American Water Towers

Hans Halberstadt - The American Fire Engine

Hans Halberstadt - Fire Engines

T.A. Jacobs - A History of Fire Engines

Matthew Lee - A Pictorial History of the Fire Engine

M.W. Goodman MD - Inventing the American Fire Engine: An Illustrated History of Fire Engine Patents

Consumer's Guide - The Complete Book of Fire Engines: A colorful Review of Today's Fire Apparatus

Sheila Buff - Fire Engines in North America

Sheila Buff - Fire Engines: Motorized Apparatus Since 1900

Neil Wallington - World Encyclopedia of Fire Engines: an illustrated guide to fire trucks around the world

Keith Ryan & Neil Wallington - The Illustrated History of Fire Engines

Paul Barrett - Heavy Rescue Trucks: 1931 - 2000 Photo Gallery

Larry Shapiro - Aerial Fire Trucks

Larry Shapiro - Fighting Fire Trucks

Larry Shapiro - Hooks and Ladders

Larry Shapiro - Pumpers: Workhorse Fire Engines

Donald F. Wood - American Volunteer Fire Trucks

Donald F. Wood - Big City Fire Truck 1900-1950

Donald F. Wood & Wayne Sorensen - Big City Fire Trucks: 1951-1996

Donald F. Wood & Wayne Sorenson - Motorized Fire Apparatus of the West, 1900-1960

Donald F. Wood & Wayne Sorensen - New York City Fire Trucks

Donald F. Wood & Wayne Sorenson - Volunteer & Rural Fire Apparatus Photo Gallery

Kenneth Little - Chicago Fire Department engines: Sixty years of motorized pumpers, 1912-1972

Kenneth Little - Chicago Fire Department hook & ladder tractors, 1914-1971

Ron Jeffers - The apparatus of the Jersey City Fire Department: Yesterday and today

John Rieth - Jersey Shore Fire Apparatus: Classic Thru the 60's

Philip R. Lincoln - Massachusetts fire apparatus: A pictorial Collection

Charles Madderom - Los Angeles City Fire Apparatus: 1953 Through 1999 Photo Archive

George Klass - Fire apparatus: A pictorial history of the Los Angeles Fire Department

John A. Calderone - Wheels of the bravest: A history of FDNY fire apparatus, 1865-1992

Peter Aloisi - Apparatus and fires across America: Featuring former FDNY apparatus

Scott Schimpf - Fire Apparatus of Philadelphia

Harrold Shell - Past and present: A history of Phoenix fire trucks

Leo E. Duliba - Industrial & Private Fire Apparatus: 1925 Through 2001 Photo Archive

G.N. Georgano & G. Marshall Naul - The Complete Encyclopedia of Commercial Vehicles

Albert Mroz - Illustrated Encyclopedia of American Trucks & Commercial Vehicles

Daniel D. Hutchins - Wheels Across America: Carriage Art & Craftsmanship

George W. Green - Special-Use Vehicles: An Illustrated History of Unconventional Cars and Trucks

William T. King - History of the American Steam Fire-Engine

John M. Peckham - Fighting fire with fire: A pictorial volume of steam fire-fighting apparatus

Ed Hass - The Dean of Steam Fire Engine Builders

Richard J. Gergel - American Fire Apparatus Co.: 1922-1993 Photo Archive

Richard J. Gergel - Imperial Fire Apparatus: 1969 Through 1976 Photo Archive

William D. Killen - Navy and Marine Corp Fire Apparatus 1900-2000: Photo Gallery

Joel L. Gebet - Saulsbury Fire Rescue Apparatus : 1956-2003 Photo Archive

Scott Mattson - Tasc Fire Apparatus: 1946 Through 1985 Photo Archive

John H. Rieth - Wildland Fire Apparatus 1940-2001: Photo Gallery


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