Top 5 firefighter products pitched on 'Shark Tank'
These firefighters and firefighter family members flexed their entrepreneurial skills on the small screen
For more than a decade, the ABC reality show "Shark Tank" has offered budding entrepreneurs the chance to pitch their inventions and potentially kickstart their business to new heights. Products presented on the show range from fun and quirky to useful and life-improving – or maybe even life-saving.
With more than 250 episodes and multiple pitches per episode, it's no surprise that some innovative firefighters and their family members have brought their ideas before the panel of "sharks."
Here are some of the top firefighter "Shark Tank" contestants and products to hit the small screen over the years:
During her time at the Halesite Volunteer Fire Department, former firefighter Sarah Apgar identified a need for a structured strength training program at the department, and used her know-how as a platoon commander with the U.S. Army in Iraq to help develop such a program. Apgar incorporated fire hoses around the station into the program, and this improvisation eventually developed into a product named Steel Hose, which made its appearance on Shark Tank last November.
Product Description: The Steel Hose is a strength training tool made out of fire hose material filled with recycled steel shot, weighing between 5 and 50 pounds depending on the length of the hose. Prior to Apgar's appearance on "Shark Tank," the Steel Hose was used at a number of local gyms and fire departments, as well as the FDNY Fire Academy. Apgar also created her company FitFighter to offer fitness programs centered around training with the Steel Hose weights.
Deal? Yes. Apgar accepted an offer of $250,000 for a 25% stake in the company from guest panelist Daniel Lubetzky, the creator of KIND bars.
Where are they now? In the nearly five months since Apgar appeared on the show, FitFighter and the Steel Hose have made strides in delivering in-home workout programs to those still stuck at home during the COVID-19 pandemic. According to TheCinemaholic, FitFighter launched a streaming app where members can follow workout routines from professional trainers. Apgar also donated $10,000 to the Tunnels to Towers Foundation in January, which was then matched by her now-business partner Lubetzky for a total of $20,000. Apgar pledged to donate $10 to the foundation for every 50 feet of Steel Hose she sells going forward.
2. Virginia firefighter duo pitch fire escape product
Norfolk Fire-Rescue Firefighters Brett Russell and Eric Hartsfield studied business at James Madison University but didn’t meet until they were assigned to the same truck at Norfolk’s Fire Station 1, according to WQAD. Their firefighting experience taught them the importance of having an efficient way to escape from a burning building, and their experience as business students helped them put their heads together to develop a product that improves upon outdated in-home fire escape systems. After five years of perfecting their invention, the pair appeared on "Shark Tank" in May 2020 to pitch their product, the Rescue Ready Window Fire Escape Ladder System.
Product Description: The Window Fire Escape Ladder System is a ladder that is installed directly under a windowsill in a home so it can be quickly used to escape during a fire. The ladder stays rolled up and compact in a decorative cover under the window until it needs to be used, and can then be unfurled over the windowsill and down the side of the house. According to the Rescue Ready website, the latest version of the product meets and exceeds ASTM Standard F2175 for portable escape ladders in residential use and has been tested to support more than 750 pounds.
Deal? No. Despite an impressive demonstration in which shark Barbara Corcoran was able to escape a simulated fire in seconds using the Rescue Ready ladder, and shark Rohan Oza was unable to escape within the 3-minute time limit using a standard commercial ladder, Russell and Hartsfield did not receive any offers from the sharks, the duo recounted to The Breeze, their alma mater’s newspaper.
Where are they now? Since their appearance on Shark Tank, Russell and Hartsfield have improved upon and renamed the ladder system as the Rescue Ready RetroFit. Russell told The Breeze that the company received about 150 emails with positive feedback from people who had seen the product on "Shark Tank." The firefighters also hope to produce a children’s book written by fire survivors Lindsay McKinnon and Christy Montoya. McKinnon lost both of her sons in the blaze that also left Montoya with severe burns. The book aims to help parents tackle the challenging discussion of what to do in an emergency with their kids, and features McKinnon’s two dogs Dottie and Cruz, who survived the fire.
3. San Diego firefighter creates solution for accidental sprinkler activations
With more than a decade in the fire service, San Diego Firefighter Matt Scarpuzzi knew how to help when it came to saving lives and property from fires. But when he responded to an alarm and found no fire, and sprinklers dumping hundreds of gallons of water into a building, there was little he could do to mitigate the damage caused by a system that is meant to help, not destroy, according to FOX 5 San Diego. That’s why Scarpuzzi designing and developing Quickstop Fire Sprinkler Tools, which he pitched on "Shark Tank" in April 2014.
Product Description: The Quickstop Fire Sprinkler Tool is a device that acts like a vice grip to attach to a sprinkler head and stop the flow of water. The clamp works on sprinkler heads whether they’re intact or sheared off, and can be used by homeowners, buildings owners or first responders to help prevent further water damage in the event of an accidental sprinkler activation or malfunction.
Deal? No. Although sharks Kevin O’Leary the “Queen of QVC” Lori Greiner made an offer of $150,000 for 50% of the company, Scarpuzzi decided to decline, according to 2Paragraphs. A 2019 blog post on the Quickstop website states, “Although the Sharks gave us an offer 5 years ago and saw promise in our product, we still don’t regret not taking it. The experiences we’ve had growing Quickstop Tools into what it is today have been invaluable.”
Where are they now? According to the Quickstop blog, Scarpuzzi’s appearance on "Shark Tank" helped get the word out about the business, and the company had sold its tools to customers in more than 30 countries around the world by 2019. In 2015, Scarpuzzi donated 61 Quickstop tools to the San Diego Fire Rescue Foundation, allowing all city fire engines and trucks to be equipped with the tools, according to the Hartford Courant.
4. Firefighter’s wife creates unique fashion statement out of retired turnout gear
Niki Rasor’s fashion business started with a simple request from her husband, Firefighter Matt Rasor. Matt asked his wife to remove a pocket from his turnout coat, and not wanting the material from the pocket to go to waste, Niki used her sewing skills to turn it into a purse, according to the Gazette Review. After getting a lot of compliments for her homemade bag, Niki got the idea to start her company Firefighter Turnout Bags, and appeared with Matt on "Shark Tank" in February 2017.
Product Description: Firefighter Turnout Bags is a fashion line of purses and other bags made from recycled turnout gear. Ranging in size from wallets to duffel bags, the items in the collection pitched on the show were all made from authentic gear retired by fire departments.
Deal? Yes. The Rasors were seeking $250,000 for 33% equity in the company, but ultimately took a deal from Lori Greiner for $250,000 with 50% equity. Shark Robert Herjavec also said he was drawn to the authentic quality of the bags and said he’d be willing to pay $500,000 for the whole company, but the Rasors decided to seal the deal with Greiner.
Where are they now? Firefighter Turnout Bags expanded its line to include more bags and accessories, such as baby blankets and headbands, and in 2017, the company introduced its “PROBIE” line at FDIC, which offered more affordable items made from the same material as turnout gear, but with new fabric rather than recycled material. The company also started making custom bags from customers' own retired uniforms. The company donated a portion of all its proceeds to charities, including StationKid and The Widows, Orphans and Disabled Firemen’s Fund. In February 2021, Niki Rasor announced that Firefighter Turnout Bags would be closing so she could focus on spending more time with her family. The post said that approximately 50,000 pieces of firefighter gear were recycled by the company over its 13 years of operation.
FDNY Firefighter Keith Young was known as the “firehouse chef,” taking his cooking skills from the station kitchen to the small screen to become a two-time winner of the Food Network competition show “Chopped.” Young was also a first responder to the terrorist attacks in New York City on 9/11 and passed away from 9/11-related cancer in 2018. A few months after his death, Young’s children Kaley, Christian and Keira decided to continue his legacy by taking his invention, the Cup Board Pro, on "Shark Tank," accompanied by the video pitch Young had filmed for the show prior to his death.
Product Description: The Cup Board Pro is a bamboo cutting board that comes with a detachable, collapsible tray for food scraps, as well as strategically-placed grooves for easy cleanup. The board is two-sided and has non-slip feet to keep it in place. In an Instagram post in 2015, Young called it “the greatest new kitchen tool yet.”
Deal? Yes. The entire panel of five sharks made a special offer of $100,000 for 20% of the company, with all profits made by the sharks to be donated to a charity that aids firefighters with 9/11-related illness.
Where are they now? Young’s daughter Kaley told Good Morning America in February 2020 that on the day the family’s "Shark Tank" episode aired, they completely sold out their inventory, with more than 130,000 people contacting them to purchase a board. In 2019, the company entered into a licensing deal with kitchenware retailer Williams Sonoma, and the Cup Board Pro soon became the most popular and fast-selling cutting board in the retailer’s history, according to Market Realist. Through the partnership with Williams Sonoma and cutting board manufacturer Epicurean, the company made improvements to the board, including making it heat resistant up to 350 degrees F and anti-bacterial, according to a 2019 press release.