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Inventor, 75, in forced retirement because of coronavirus – but can’t wait to return to work

PUBLISHED: 11:10 14 April 2020 | UPDATED: 15:51 14 April 2020

Roger Carr of Britannia Fire, Pic: submitted.

Roger Carr of Britannia Fire, Pic: submitted.

He is the man who revolutionised the fire extinguisher. But as Roger Carr celebrates his 75th birthday he has no intention of slowing down.

Roger Carr, of Britannia Fire. Pic: submittedRoger Carr, of Britannia Fire. Pic: submitted

Mr Carr is currently locked down at home in Norwich during the coronavirus restrictions, with his firm closed and production on hold. But once life gets back to normal he has said he has no intention of retiring despite celebrating a milestone birthday.

“I think I like being at the helm too much,” he said. “I am having what I am calling a forced retirement at the moment as I can’t go to work. At first it was quite pleasant doing lots of little jobs but I really want to get back to things.”

Mr Carr launched his company selling and servicing fire extinguishers in 1968 and has been credited as making the most significant change to them since 1902. He created the world’s first composite plastic extinguisher in 2009, the P50, which is now exported across the world.

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Now trading under the name Britannia Fire, Mr Carr’s company has expanded across 11 buildings in the Ashwellthorpe Industrial Estate, near Wymondham where its 40-strong workforce works on six 12 hour production shifts a week to keep up with demand.

The entrepreneur and inventor boasts the enviable ability to spot a gap in the market, create something to fill it before moving on to the next idea.

So, was this a natural instinct he always had? Mr Carr believes it started when he was around 18.

“I started to see things in a different light,” he said. “I wanted to invent all kinds of things, most of which were no good. My first one was a part for a motorboat which became quite successful but was just not for me as I never got it patented. I had a sailing boat I used to take to Eaton Park in Norwich which I used to sail backwards and forwards and there would be boats going past with very smoky outboard motors. I came up with the idea of a way of dispersing the flow under the water.”

Then he set up a business repairing vehicles for the showroom.

“They used to bring them down from the Midlands in all weathers and if they got scratched or damaged, we had contracts to bring them up to scratch again and sell them as brand new.”

From there, he saw the value of re-filling CO2 tanks used by breweries which led to a contract with Courage. And after a brief period working in Derbyshire in weaving and knitting for a company making bra lace and knicker trim for Marks and Spencer, incredibly he ended up in the fire extinguisher business.

“I ended up designing a new product for fire extinguishers. Instead of banging a plunger to make them work, I came up with the ‘seize and squeeze’ controlled discharge mechanism.”

It revolutionised the way fire extinguishers were used.

In 1980, he designed an extinguisher held together with keys and from there, the Britannia range which creates pressure in the valve as you open it which is a product still sold worldwide today.

In 2006, he sold his firm UK Fire International planning to retire but then came up with another idea.

He said: “I thought I have to find a product which has less of a requirement for service and maintenance. Governments wanted less pollution and also, I wanted to see how companies could cut visits to customers.

“I worked on a criteria that all metal extinguishers required maintenance or they would corrode so I wanted to make something that was non-corrosive.

“While reading a magazine on a plane, I read about composite material being put into the new Airbus 380. I thought it was a tremendously strong product. So I started designing something called the P50 which is a corrosion-free fire extinguisher.”

One of the first customers who came on board were Anglian Water. He said: “They have very remote sites so there is a very easy checking system that they can do themselves every year.

“The fire extinguisher can stay in situ for 10 years, be refilled after 10 years and then goes for another 10 years. After that time, it has removed due to international regulations.”

The fire extinguisher design was also been snapped up by Heathrow Airport, UBS Bank, BP and universities.

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