Rethinking the Fire Extinguisher

An entrepreneur's quest to build fire extinguishers that are functional — and beautiful.

In France, most homeowners don’t own a fire extinguisher, and if they do, they stow it away in a cabinet or closet. The safety item that should be perhaps most accessible is often the most difficult to find. French fire safety expert Rodolphe Gimenez wants to change that.

“Fires are the second cause of mortality for children under five by domestic accident,” says Gimenez. “But only five percent of homes in France are equipped for fire safety.” It doesn’t help that design-conscious home owners don’t want the traditional red, clunky device in sight, he says.

Gimenez launched his small business, Fire Design, to create fire extinguishing devices that people would want to display as a piece of art.

Gimenez spoke with Longitudes about fire safety, style and the challenges of launching a regulated safety product.

What inspired you to create Fire Design?

The concept for Fire Design was born from the combination of my experience in the security and safety business and my passion for design. I wanted to turn an important technical device into a beautiful object that would complement a home’s interior. When I moved from Paris to the south of France five years ago, the idea came to me to mount a fire extinguishing device in my new kitchen that would mesh with the home’s décor. My friends loved it, and I realized it had great potential.

You sell hundreds of Fire Design models, ranging from sleek chrome to ones with pop culture references like Betty Boop and the Statue of Liberty. Which one do you display at home?

We work with artists to launch new designs based on what our customers want in terms of graphics, and we can customize the design for people’s homes, cars, boats, etc. The one that hangs in my kitchen looks like a bottle of red wine.

How did you start your career in fire safety?

I worked in the military as an expert in the fight against possible nuclear, biological and chemical attacks. I then started a fire safety company,Sécurité Incendie Européenne,in France. Because of my background, I’m able to understand the many technical aspects of fire safety practices.

What challenges did you face launching this product?

Under French law, there are very strict specifications as to what a fire extinguisher should look like. We needed to convince the French government that our product was intended for private individuals (B2C) and not for professionals who must have red fire extinguishers. I was able to navigate the process of getting Fire Design approved by the European Commission and we can ship internationally.

What innovators inspire you?

Top athletes like Magic Johnson and Michael Jordan inspired me when I was growing up. Elite athletes have the ability to analyze failure to prepare for the future.

What are you reading right now?

I’m reading the book Les Vertus de l’Échec (The Virtues of Failure) by French writer Charles Pépin. In France, we tend to think of failure as bad. But failure allows us to shape our personality, progress and move forward.

How do you plan to grow your business?

I want Fire Design to be the reference of its market. I want to set up operations in other countries and discover new cultures.

How has UPS changed the way you do business? What types of products and services do you think will help you succeed in the future?

The relationship between Fire Design and UPS dates from 2009 when we had only three employees. UPS didn’t just help us export products inside and outside of France; the company also helped us to develop our business. UPS has been at our side to develop our sales processes and packaging, train our staff on the specifics of shipping “dangerous” products by air and manage customer requests. Our partnership with UPS is flawless.

Rodolphe Gimenez is director and founder of Fire Design, based in Paris.

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