Call it a fire drill for manufacturers.

Local companies scrambled in the past month to help finish seven new high-tech fire trucks in time for the Republican National Convention in St. Paul next week.

The city gets to keep four of the trucks, which were built in part with GOP money. The trucks will be moved Friday to a restricted area near the Xcel Energy Center, but the U.S. Secret Service won't let them leave the area for a week.

Six of the trucks, which cost $350,000 to $700,000 each, were built by Custom Fire Apparatus Inc. in Osceola, Wis. The seventh was built by Pierce Manufacturing in Appleton, Wis., for $175,000. The trucks required custom fire foam injection systems built by Hypro, a New Brighton division of Pentair Inc., a $3.5 billion company that makes fire and industrial pumps, filtration systems, and pool and spa equipment. Pentair is headquartered in Golden Valley.

Taken together, the trucks and equipment heading to the Xcel Center Friday are worth more than $2.7 million and were partially paid for with a $557,000 federal grant allocated for fire equipment for the Republican National Convention (RNC). In all, the city received $50 million in federal grants for police cars, fire trucks, cameras, staffing and other security measures.

City officials said the new fire trucks were needed to maintain full protection around the convention and at the 16 stations citywide.

"Once you are embedded [in the Xcel restricted area] you can't leave," St. Paul Fire Marshal Steve Zaccard said. With the new trucks at Xcel only, "It's like adding a few extra fire stations. So instead of having 16 fire stations, it's like having 18."

Zaccard said the RNC is leasing three fire "pumper" trucks from the city, which is technically leasing them from Custom Fire. In addition, the city bought four rigs to replace older ones.

Quick delivery

The RNC threw a monkey wrench into the city's previous timetable, said Jim Kirvida, president of Custom Fire. He said he got a phone call from the city in April asking him to speed up production on fire trucks that weren't scheduled for delivery until November. He agreed. But the chassis parts didn't arrive until the end of July.

Kirvida pushed other orders aside and decided to rent three of his own newly built trucks to the city for just $1 apiece as a gesture of thanks for years of business.

That was "generous," Zaccard said.

Most of the trucks are "Triple Combination Pumpers," which have a fire pump, a water tank and a hose. One is a $700,000 aerial truck capable of fighting fires in tall buildings. Another is Kirvida's $414,000 fire truck, which he built to put out airplane fires. It's equipped with a turret nozzle, a special $85,000 foam-discharging system and hose reels.

Kirvida said he was pleased at the new technology in his trucks. "Most modern fire trucks have a Class A foam system only. That is very common. The St. Paul fire trucks have a combination of Class A and Class B, [which is] an even higher grade of technology," Kirvida said. Class A foams fight fires fueled by paper and wood. Class B foams put out petrochemical fires.

St. Paul firefighters gathered at the training center next door to the St. Paul Saints ballpark Tuesday to take the new trucks through their paces.

Most of the trucks are outfitted with Pentair's state-of-the-art fire-busting foam injectors, which measure and inject specified doses of foam into fire hoses carrying 125 to 800 gallons of water per minute.

The use of fire foams with the injection system is four times more effective in fighting fires than water alone, said Pentair's FoamPro marketing manager, Mike Dupay.

Dan Cimenski, a 29-year St. Paul firefighter, blasted an arc of foam-water mix from a trucks during training Tuesday. "The technology is beautiful," he said. "The old systems were clunky. We were dealing with five gallon buckets and measuring the amount of foam needed. This is easy -- you just press a button and it's all done."

Pentair first developed its FoamPro equipment to help California forest rangers. Today the foams and dispensing equipment are used in Iraq and in U.S. oil refineries, but are slowly being purchased for urban fire departments to replace older rigs.

Dee DePass • 612-673-7725