Aharon Mezei is the owner of Passaic's Safer Escape, which resells the Modum Fire Escape Ladder
1. What is so unique about the product?
It’s a retractable aluminum ladder that you mount outside your house next to a window. One rail is attached to the house, and the rungs and the other rail fold up into it. In its closed position, it looks like a downspout, extremely unobtrusive, so it doesn’t compromise the aesthetic beauty of your exterior. In the event of a fire, chas v’shalom, you pull a release pin from the top, and the rungs fold out to horizontal position, making a stable escape route from an upper-floor window. This style ladder is the fastest way to get out of the house from an upper level in an emergency. It’s permanent, virtually maintenance-free, and can be opened from multiple floors. Plus, several people can climb down at once, allowing an entire family to escape in about 30 seconds.
2. How did this become your “thing”?
One Pesach morning two years ago, I watched as a neighbor’s three-story home burned to the ground. They’d had an electrical fire near the front door, and with no back door to escape from, they came down their fire escape. I shudder to think of the consequences had they not had one! I’m a yeshivah bochur. I’m still living at home, and their narrow call got us thinking: What would we do, chas v’shalom, in such a situation? How would people on the third floor get out safely? My married siblings and their children sleep on our third floor when they come for Shabbos — it’s a real concern.
3. Why not a fire escape?
My mother insisted she wanted one for our house, but when my father looked into it, he saw it costs $11,000. Anyway, most firemen will tell you they don’t like fire escapes for residential homes — they need regular painting, they’re rarely maintained properly, and they’re often cluttered in a manner that prevents a quick escape. Homeowners don’t love them because they’re extremely expensive and unsightly. The next option is a throw-out ladder, the ones that come folded like an accordion and can be stored in a closet or under a bed — but that’s not particularly exciting either, because they’re unstable, difficult to climb, and can hold only one person at a time. We tested ours, but quickly realized there was no way my young nephews would be able to get down it in an emergency, and practically speaking, these aren’t the easiest to set up. Plus, throw-out ladders are usually stored out of the way — in a closet, under a bed — so they’re hard to access or may not be where you thought you left them, and they can’t be practiced on because they’re single-use. My father scoured the Internet until he came across Modum, a Danish company that manufactures a retractable ladder.
4. How did you go from customer to reseller?
My father liked the ladder so much, he got three more so we’d have one on each side of the house. In his conversations with Modum, they told my father they’re looking to expand, and they asked him to be the US distributor. I was thinking about a career path, and this seemed right up my alley, so we flew out to the factory in Denmark to learn all about the ladders and the manufacturing process. I even got to make my own sample ladder. Denmark has a reputation for quality products, and we were very impressed.
5. How much does it cost?
They’re made to order, and the size depends on the ground-to-window measurement. Pricing can range from $1,900 to $2,500 for a two-story ladder, which then needs to be installed. We have a network of handymen and contractors in the Tristate area we can refer you to. It isn’t difficult — a basic setup takes two people 45 minutes — and there are instructions on our website. If you live near me, I can then come demonstrate how to practice using it. My biggest challenge is convincing some of the housewives who are afraid of heights, so I recommend they start from the ground and climb slowly to a comfortable point. Kids usually take to it immediately. My niece and nephew were practicing from a third floor at ages five and three, with a harness — the ladder comes with one for practice. And in terms of maintenance, you just have to open and close it ten times twice a year, so it won’t jam.
6. Is this the first time you’re doing something of this nature?
Not specifically. I love talking to people, and I’m passionate about safety. I founded a car seat gemach several years ago in Israel that now has over 70 locations — someone I work with there runs it. After witnessing firsthand how quickly a fire can take over a house, I started focusing on fire safety. Whenever I walk into a home, I ask if the smoke detectors are up-to-date, if the family has a proper escape plan, and if they practice it.
7. What’s your next step?
Right now, I learn first seder and night seder, and I work with Safer Escape in the afternoon. The manufacturer wants us to create a network of resellers across the country. My hope is to get other frum people involved so they can earn a parnassah in this easy-to-learn, make-your-own-hours business. The funny thing is, we’re introducing this concept all over the US, but it isn’t even a new product! This type of ladder has been around for 40 years, and it’s actually required by building code in many Scandinavian countries.
8. What’s something you wish everyone knew about fire safety?
Hatzalah puts out a fire safety flyer every Chanukah reminding us to be careful about lighting menorahs near curtains or leaving flammable items nearby or leaving menorahs unattended. But did you know that more home fires begin in the winter than any other season, or that the most common causes of home fires is heating equipment? Or that statistically speaking, smoke inhalation causes the most fatalities in home fires, not burning? You need a proper escape procedure — it’s like insurance. You think it won’t apply to you, but it does happen, so everyone needs to be prepared. No one who has one regrets it.
9. Who is your clientele?
We initially picked up a lot of frum customers by advertising in local publications, and then we expanded to the general population online. The lion’s share of sales are to homeowners and landlords with two- and three-story homes across the country. We’ve sold a ladder to a university, some historic landmarks, and we’re in talks with a hunting lodge looking for quick escape routes in case of an active shooter. I’m always a salesman at heart — once I went out with a girl, and even though it wasn’t a shidduch, I turned around and sold her father a ladder.
10. What’s the most common question you get?
Other than, “How much does it cost?” it’s, “How do I know a thief can’t open it from the bottom?” The answer: The ladder releases from above only, not from ground level. Oh, and once in a while, a pet owner asks if and how they can get their pet out with it.
(Originally featured in Mishpacha, Issue 941)
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