Wayne Walker talks about being a chimney sweep in Central Georgia.
Q: A chimney sweep is not a career that comes to mind in the south. Is there really a call for it?
A: There are more chimneys in Central Georgia than you might think. People have them for ambiance as well as warmth or use them to complement the way they heat. There are a lot of fireplaces, wood stoves, inserts, what used to be called Buck stoves. Even gas fireplaces need to be cleaned. All of these need to be cleaned and have serious dangers, so yes it can be a bit seasonal, but there is a need. We also do dryer ducts. With all fluff, they can be highly combustible.
Q: So how did you become a chimney sweep?
A: I’m from Georgia, Columbus, and left the Air Force after 22 years and was posted to Robins Air Force Base. I had been in Germany and elsewhere before that. I wanted to stay in the area and work for myself, so I looked for a career. It seemed like there were a lot of electricians and plumbers out there, so I kept looking for something that wasn’t some kind of night thing, something that could be a real trade. On my wife’s side, we had a relative who did this stuff up north and he showed me the ropes. I said to myself: “OK, that’s it, there are not many chimney sweeps at all, but if I do it, I want to do it very well.
Q: When did you start the business?
A: 1994. It is called Middle Georgia Chimney Sweeps (www.middlegeorgiachimney.com).
Q: What did you do in the Air Force?
A: I was an aircraft electrician. I was part of an aircraft combat damage team and went to Desert Shield and Desert Storm. I had been in Robins for a short time when the Gulf War started. I keep my aeronautical power plant maintenance license up to date.
Q: For many, the stereotype of the chimney sweep is the old English setting of Marry Poppins with Dick Van Dyke dancing on the roofs of townhouses. What do you think of that?
A: No, it’s not like that — no dancing. And no small children falling down chimneys. They did it once, but it was banned for a long time. My son has worked with me and helped me since he was 12, but we’ve never knocked him down a chimney. We wear black – it makes sense – and I have a chimney sweep top hat and coattails that I wore when I first met clients. But it seemed too theatrical and people thought, “Are you serious? I have the hat and I’m proud to be part of such a long tradition, but now it’s the caps and of course the technology is quite different.
Q: How so?
A: We use brushes and rods, but there is much more than that. The equipment and filtration we use is top notch. We go to average homes, mobile homes, and million dollar homes, in addition to doing a lot of work in historic homes. We’re absolutely thorough, but you can’t make or leave any type of mess, so we take all sorts of precautions, use drop cloths, use ventilation technology, and have industrial cleaning and filtration systems. . We filter down to half a micron so nothing gets thrown back into the house. We use video scanning and document everything and keep a record in our database for years to come. We sweep up the crumbs, remove the buildup that all fires create and also look for red flags, hazards. We have the training, certification, expertise and experience to do the job right and identify the hazards. It’s really important.
Q: We just had a cold snap, is that increasing business?
A: That, and you’d be surprised how many calls we get from people saying they just had to call the fire department, could we come and check things out? Plus, there’s just proper maintenance and proper functioning of fireplaces and inserts and everything.
Q: What are some of the dangers? Why worry about hearths?
A: Before we get to the nitty-gritty, I thought like everyone else that you just let the smoke out. That’s it. But there’s a lot going on, especially considering there’s also liquid tar rising and accumulating inside your chimney. It can choke your chimney, cause damage and cause a fire. Creosote burns between 2,000 and 3,000 degrees. It cracks brick and mortar. The Chimney Safety Institute of America says you should inspect annually and the standard we follow for fire protection says you should brush annually as well. We have been CSIA certified since our inception 25 years ago and complete the training annually. We are also trained and certified on roof access and on the specialist equipment we use – all state of the art. We take care of cleaning, security, repairs, chimney parts, chimney relining and leaks. Leaks can be a big problem, as can the intrusion of animals and birds. We work to be the best. I tried to get The Telegraph to add a sweeping category to The Best of The Best awards because it doesn’t really fit into the scope of normal cleaning, but not yet. I think we would win for sure.
Answers may have been edited for length and clarity. Compiled by Michael W. Pannell. Contact him at [email protected]