Chim-chiminey: ’Tis the season for chimney sweeps

By Donna Barr, West End North Correspondent


Autumn will blow in soon and it’s time to get the wood stoves safe and ready for the storm season. Creosote needs to be removed and parts repaired and replaced before the burning season begins, if residents want to prevent dangerous chimney or flue fires.


This should be done by a trained chimney sweep, both to guarantee safety and to comply with regulations.


Al Pelletier, of Sekiu Chimney Sweeps, took a moment from a busy day to detail how to keep a home safe and cozy.


He dressed in the traditional, practical black worn by sweeps and donned a top hat, just for the photos. He brought along a solar-powered spotlight: a metal disk on a handle, used to reflect sunlight into the dark depths of chimneys and flues.


“Chimney sweeps have been using those for hundreds of years. But they’re only good when the sun shines. One of my most frequent tools is rain gear,” Pelletier said.


Washington requires a UBI (Unified Business Identifier) registration for doing business as a chimney sweep. Installation and some repairs may require registration as a HVAC (heating, venting, air conditioning) specialist.


Pelletier pointed out that users of wood stoves should consider training and experience when considering who will be working on these potentially dangerous systems.


“My first ‘training’ (in 1982) was reading the book provided by the company I bought my chimney sweeping equipment from,” Pelletier said.


For researching training and certification, Pelletier says there is lots of good (and bad) advice on the Internet.


“Safety needs to be the end goal of the service.” Pelletier said.


Even a perfectly installed and serviced system can be dangerous if operated improperly, he said, encouraging chimney owners to heed to the advice of the heating system expert who installs and maintains the system.


“The size of the fines they can impose for non-compliance is staggering,” Pelletier said.


Pelletier added he had no intention of retiring soon or moving away in the future.


“Every few years a rumor gets started that I have quit. I once even heard I had died,” Pelletier said.


Customers have asked who will take his place when he retires, but he can’t say, although he knows there are other sweeps on the reservations and some in Port Angeles who might potentially expand into the West End. He does not intend to hire and train a replacement.


“This isn’t work the OSHA (Occupational Health and Safety Administration) wants employees doing,” said Pelletier. “To keep someone with me while I work, I would need to charge double, to pay us both.”


As a side note, Pelletier added that he understood the use of the sweep’s top hat originated in the days when undertakers hired a crew of children to sweep chimneys.


The master sweep running the crew got his hats from what Pelletier delicately referred to as the undertaker’s “clientele,” who no longer needed their headgear. Children, acting as sweeps and wearing top hats as undertaker’s “mutes” or mourners, can be seen in the 1968 movie musical, “Oliver!”


Sekiu Chimney Sweeps services stoves in Clallam County and west Jefferson County and can be contacted at 360-963-2864.

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