It’s no song and dance: New chimney sweeping business preaches fireplace safety this winter | Local News

BOISE – Aside from having the same job, Ritchie Abromeit has only one thing in common with Bert, the chimney sweep in the 1964 film Mary Poppins: his hands are dirty.

In contrast to Bert, who sings in the Disney classic “Good luck rubs off when I shake your hand”, Abromeit warns a stranger before offering a soot-blackened hand for an introductory shake.

He doesn’t believe in luck very much either.

When Bert looks at a dark, gloomy chimney in the film, he sees “a door to a place of enchantment” between the roofs of London. Before repairs, Abromeit uses a camera to repair cracks, gaps or cavities in the chimneys that could lead to a chimney fire.

“You need to know if you are safe,” he said one recent morning as he was laying tiles on a fireplace in a nearly 50-year-old house in Boise.

Idaho Fireplace and Chimney is a one truck, three person operation. Abromeit, his wife Meagan, and brother Tyler work at the Abromeit home in Meridian. They moved from Kansas to Idaho, the home state of the Abromeits, to be closer to the extended family.

“It’s the best I’ve ever done,” said Ritchie Abromeit, who grew up in Boise and has two young children. “Start with this (business), but bring my family here too.”

According to Abromeit, fireplace and chimney maintenance is often overlooked by homeowners – other maintenance and repairs take precedence over the fireplace.

“It’s out of sight, out of mind,” he said. “Nobody really knows what problems are to be found there.”

Except for rare chimney sweeps like him. And the 30-year-old, who has been on duty for a third of his life, has good reason to be wary of the potential danger – and not of the “enchantment” – that lurks in the slide.

In 2014 – the most recent data available from the US Consumer Product Safety Commission – chimneys and chimneys caused approximately 22,500 residential fires in the US. by far the most heating and cooling devices of all kinds.

These fires could have caused up to 20 deaths, the data shows.

So much for “Chim Chim Cheree”.

FAMILY BUSINESS

Abromeit, a former film major, started his Idaho Fireplace and Chimney company this year after having worked for a large chimney company in Kansas City, Kansas for 10 years. There he learned the trade – he worked on older, bigger, funkier, and more difficult fireplaces than in Idaho.

“You have more safety rigging, scaffolding and all that stuff,” he said. “I’ve tackled some pretty tough jobs.”

There he also learned to be thorough.

The first thing Abromeit mentions about Idaho Fireplace and Chimney is certification. It is the only company in the Boise metropolitan area to be certified by the Chimney Safety Institute of America, he said.

“It shows the customer that I took the time first and foremost to really learn, but also acquired the knowledge necessary to work safely on their chimney,” he said.

Certification includes rigorous testing, Abromeit said, and access to resources and training that will help chimney sweeps identify safety issues in the chimney.

Chimney sweeps do not need to be licensed and there is no law enforcement agency to enforce security, which Abromeit believes leads to irresponsible processing.

“If we had a license there would be a little more accountability,” he said. “I wish there was one. That’s why we went through the entire certification – to show people that we know our stuff, we’re ready to take on the education, hard work, training, and care of your home. “

There are more than 50 chimney cleaning and repairing companies in Idaho, according to a company search by the Idaho Secretary of State.

Idaho Fireplace and Chimney answers about 20 calls a week during the busy winter season. These requirements range from cleaning chimneys and chimneys to repairs, inspections, and masonry work, including rebuilding chimneys or chimneys.

Last week Abromeit and his brother completed a two-day home renovation project in Boise.

On Monday, they cleaned and inspected the house’s brick chimney and installed a new stainless steel chimney lining. On Tuesday they spiced up the fireplace in the living room with new tiles.

The fireplace liner – often made of terracotta clay, concrete, or steel – keeps heat and exhaust gases away from a fire moving up and out of the house. The liner prevents heat from being transferred to the rest of the structure and contains the by-products of the exhaust gas. Any gap in this liner can lead to a fire over time – sometimes 10, sometimes 100 fireplace uses, Ritchie Abromeit said.

Before every cleaning or installation, he checks the chimney for signs of wear. Often times his customers don’t want to pay for an inspection, he said, but “we never do a cleaning without an inspection. We don’t want to give people a false sense of security. “

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The Chimney Safety Institute of America recommends annual inspections of the fireplace and every time the house changes hands or the heat source is changed.

The main thing Abromeit learned during his certification was how to conduct high level inspections. During these inspections, the outside of the chimney is checked and a camera inside is checked for “cracks, gaps, voids – anything that could possibly lead to a chimney fire or house fire and otherwise make the chimney unsafe,” he said.

“We’re doing repairs all the time, but usually it’s the video inspection and the field inspection that lead to the discovery of things that need to be fixed,” he said.

During the cleaning itself, Abromeit again deviates from the image of Bert on the roof: Less than half of Abromeit spends “between the pavement and the stars”, as Bert puts it.

“Most people think of chimney sweeps as someone who stands up and down with a brush that goes up and down,” Abromeit said. “I don’t know this has been the case for hundreds of years, but people also expect a lot of dirt and dust with this method. So the industry has changed the way we do things to better protect homes. “

Instead of brushing from top to bottom, Abromeit sits on tarpaulins in a house with a vacuum at the bottom of the chimney and knocks out the soot with a rotary brush with long poles – and whatever is hiding up there, such as live animals, trinkets or in a case in Kansas City of what could have been a human bone.

UNEXPECTED PATH

Abromeit did not aspire to be a chimney sweep.

After graduating from Capital High School in Boise, Abromeit left Idaho to attend film school in Florida. The business turned out to be expensive, and he got the opportunity to work for a chimney company in Kansas City through a college friend who was starting his own company in Kansas.

Like a film writer, Abromeit became an expert on chimneys, an accomplishment he is proud of.

His cinematic background didn’t provide much practical knowledge for his chimney sweep job, but it came in handy in one way.

With these camera inspections, the company can generate detailed visual reports that reveal an aspect of client homes that clients have never seen before.

“One of the things we are really proud of is that our reports are not just handwritten, scrawled reports,” Abromeit said. “It’s every relevant picture that I take during the inside / outside inspection. I don’t want people to have to take too much of my word for things. I want people to see that we are doing this. That’s why we do it. “

It turns out that there may still be a resemblance between Bert, the singing chimney sweep, and Abromeit, the cautious chimney writer: They both love their work.

“You get to know a lot of people, you interact with a lot of people. It’s just fun, ”said Abromeit. “I would never have chosen it alone, but I really enjoy it.”

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