CSIA debuts homeowner brochure at fire instructors conference

April 12, 2014




CSIA is committed to education, across all industries, including firefighting agencies, because when it comes to helping homeowners who have suffered chimney fires, those first responders can really help us out with our noble cause.


That’s why we were so thrilled to return as a trade show exhibitor to the Fire Department Instructors Conference in Indianapolis, IN, held April 10-12, where we debuted a new brochure, “What You Need to Know After a Chimney Fire.”

It’s an information-heavy, 8-panel color publication that we have made free for a limited time. It’s meant for firefighters to keep on their trucks, to hand out to residents who may have experienced a chimney fire that required a call to 911.

Thousands of these type of fires occur every year. Many homeowners are shocked when it occurs.

Yes, using a fireplace or stove is starting a fire in your home, yet folks don’t realize the danger that lurks in the flue. That’s why CSIA is so focused on promoting awareness of the need for inspection and sweeping well before the chimney can unintentionally catch fire.

Video: Check out some Vines of the activity at the FDIC and our booth.

But when a fire happens, and firefighters extinguish the blaze, there’s a miscommunication that can occur. The homeowners often ask the guys in the thick suits if it’s safe to use the fire apparatus again.

It is not!

Now instead of just blindly recommending a chimney inspection, firefighters have a new tool – our brochure – so homeowners know WHO to call for that post-fire inspection.

That’s CSIA, and the brochure features our phone number and website so the homeowner can decide to contact our ethics-minded sweeps for service.

Video: CSIA’s Jeff Schmittinger and Joe Sauter explain the benefits of the brochure to firefighters and chimney sweeps

We introduced our free brochure three ways: CSIA Sweep Bob Sciba of the Chimney Doctors delivered a presentation to county firefighters in the Midland, Michigan area on April 9, we made it free online on April 10 at csia.org, and we had printed 150 4-pack brochures at our FDIC trade show table.

Hundreds of firefighters or in firefighter-related professions strolled by from departments as large as DC and as small as rural volunteers. From New Jersey to Louisiana and Michigan to North Carolina — even a firefighter from Hawaii — we heard this phrase over and over again:

“Great idea!”

Firefighters train themselves, but they welcome input from affiliated trades, particularly because our services don’t necessarily impact their line of work. Several departments said they’d put these brochures on their response trucks immediately. Others pledged to show them to their county or regional fire associations. They appreciated being able to be among the first to hear about an initiative that will help them to avoid liability, as they don’t have to be held responsible for giving the homeowner the thumbs up on immediately reusing the chimney before it is ready.

This was just the start for us. There were thousands of firefighters that we didn’t reach at this show.

That’s where sweeps will come in. They can, for now, print on demand a full-color two-sided brochure. This is no charge other than what a typical 8-1/2 by 14 brochure would cost you. Bring it to your local departments and give it to them for free.

Video: CSIA’s Tom Spalding recaps how guests viewed the brochure in this short Vine.

We’re preparing a PowerPoint that will teach sweeps how to use it! If you aren’t comfortable reaching out to firefighters we can try and do it for you – just let us know 1 or 2 fire departments in your service area. But keep in mind, you’ll be quicker and more convincing being a resident of your area.

Please feel free to email us at Tspalding@csia.org

More: on the FDIC trade show.

Photo credits: Top, Photo courtesy of Phillip Kerns, Assistant Chief, Frankenmuth Fire Department, MI; and Tom Spalding.



A message from John about safety

April 8, 2014

A message from John about safety

We detailed the medical situation that fellow chimney sweep John O’Donnell is facing in a previous post (click the picture to see that story, and ways you can donate to aid in John’s recovery.)

John typed out this thoughtful letter which we wanted to share with fellow sweeps across the country and world:

“To all my fellow chimney sweep professionals, my name is John O’Donnell and I have been owner/operator of the Flues Brothers Chimney Sweeps located in Lakeville, Mass., for almost 30 years.

I recently fell about 20 feet off a ladder on to my back while servicing a chimney. I was conscious after the fall and vaguely remember the 45-minute ambulance ride from the job site to Rhode Island Hospital.

I suffered several fractured ribs on the left and right sides, a fractured sternum and most unfortunate was the fracture of my back at the level of the 11-12th thoracic vertebrae. The injury has left me currently paralyzed from the waist down. The prognosis for being able to walk again is uncertain at this point. A lot of damage was done and it will be a long road to recovery. I am hoping with time and hard work I will regain some mobility.

My message to you is to cherish every day and be as careful as possible. This was just a routine day of going to work and never thinking about the possibility something like this would happen to me.

We go on day-to-day wrapped up in our normal world of running our businesses with little thought that something like this could happen. This is a perfect example that accidents like this could happen to anyone of us.

Please be safe out there. It is so important to take the time and double check that our ladders are secure. Always use your ridge hooks and safety equipment at all times because taking foolish chances is never worth it.

I would like to deeply thank everyone for supporting me with your letters, calls, emails, and personal visits I have received by my many friends of the Mass Guild and CSIA to Spaulding Hospital where I am currently going through rehabilitation.

Please continue to keep me in your thoughts and prayers.

Sweeps luck to all of you,
John O’Donnell


A sweep in need

April 2, 2014

A sweep in need

Friends in the chimney and venting industry, one of our colleagues needs your help.

John O’Donnell, 58, of Lakeville, Mass., part of the family-run business The Flues Brothers Chimney Sweeps — a member of the National Chimney Sweep Guild — suffered life-altering injuries after a recent fall from a ladder at a worksite.

John was paralyzed from the waist down after the fall, which injured his spine, in addition to causing multiple broken bones.

There is hope that once all of the swelling goes down he will gain movement in his legs, but that is uncertain.

He is undergoing rehabilitation at a top-notch facility, Spaulding Rehabilitation Hospital in Boston, MA.

CSIA Staff spoke to John by phone. His resolve is amazing and his courage is remarkable.

His family has insurance, but beyond medical care, they face the immediate hurdle of “life costs” related to the paralysis, including what type of wheelchair he’ll have to purchase.

We know many of you want to contribute toward helping John, a CSIA Certified Chimney Sweep since 1984!

Those of you interested in a financial donation can do so securely on this special website. Give what you can, or donate the income from one sweep.


Convention week, NCSG Innovation ’14

March 23, 2014

We combined the majority of content from the week that was our 2014 National Chimney Sweep Guild Innovation ’14 in Columbus, OH.

In words and pictures, grouped by day and event, here were some highlights of @ncsg and @chimney_safety activity, as posted in chronological order on the social media site Storify.

Here are some bonus photos as well.

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An e-learning all-star

March 21, 2014

E-learning all-stars

During the National Chimney Sweep Guild 2014 convention in Columbus, OH, we took time to recognize a longtime CCS credential-holder who wasn’t even there. He didn’t need to be. Allan Bopp, of Sandpoint, ID, gets all the education he needs not from an in-person session, but online.

Our e-learning program, in fact, has grown in popularity as more people see value in the coursework but can’t justify the cost of travel, particularly as the economy rebounds from a prolonged recession.

Bopp has used our Internet-based Chimney Academy to take 33 lifetime classes.

“I am kind of semi-retired,” he told CSIA. “But it allows me to keep up my certification in a convenient manner. I’m not fond of the computer, but it is pretty easy to navigate.”

Bopp, CCS No. 279, has been certified since 1982.

We published an audio interview with Allan on our Soundcloud channel.

Our e-learning program — which features over 70 courses that are available in a popular self-paced format —  is gaining in popularity; click the photo to learn more. And congratulations, Allan.


CSIA’s 2014 auction

March 14, 2014

The annual CSIA auction, considered one of the great events associated with the National Chimney Sweep Guild convention, brings all of our sweeps, families and supporters together in one room to turn donated goods — including one-of-a-kind handmade items — into a crucial and critical revenue stream for CSIA operations. 

This year’s auction — themed “Night at the Zoo” — is March 21 in Columbus, Ohio.

We actually have two auctions – one silent, one live.

The silent auction is a special benefit auction where proceeds raised go to pay for expenses related to Sweeps Week, a supercharged 5-day extravaganza held the second week of June. Sweeps gather at the Tech Center in Plainfield, Indiana to help out with any projects that need doing. 

As for the live auction, auction coordinator Judd Berg of Judd Berg & Sons Chimney Sweeps in North Eastham, Mass., answered a few questions about its function and purpose.

Q: Why is the auction so important to CSIA?

A: CSIA has very limited revenue avenues but dreams of good things to do.  CSIA Benefit Auction proceeds help turn these dreams into reality.

Q: What’s our usual attendance rate? 

A: We usually set up seating for approximately 250, but quite a few bidders stand around also. Some sweeps bring their families for a night of fun. Often times our vendors attend and actively bid. Not every auction item is work related.

Q: What type of items are available to bid on?

A: As you might guess, industry-related items account for the majority of items up for bid, goods that are purchased, then used by sweeps in the field. Things like liners, caps, all-fuel systems, brushes, water-repellent items, tools, even sweep vacuums, wood stoves and fireplace systems. Chimney sweep memorabilia ranging from prints to figurines to t-shirts. Gorgeously handmade chimney sweep dolls. Chimney sweep beer!!! You can find things to bring home for your significant other, or your kids, that aren’t even industry related. Our international sweep guests generously provide sweep clothing, artwork, and beverages associated with their home countries and guilds.

But things occasionally go outside the box.  We’ve had one of our sweeps offer to cut off her floor-length hair if a certain amount of money was bid-pledged.  When that amount was reached matching bids were taken for her to not be shorn. In the end, not a lock of hair was disturbed and CSIA raised $15,000. On another occasion five intrepid sweeps volunteered to sit for 30 minutes by the outside pool in their bathing suits immediately after the auction if $6,000 were pledge-bid.

This might not seem like such a big deal until you remember that it was the middle of winter and there was about four feet of snow surrounding the pool. Thus began the legend of the “Hershey Five.”

And recently we have some very industrious donors who have stitched up wonderful quilts to be bid on. In fact I understand that one such quilt made from numerous chimney sweep themed t-shirts and sweatshirts has been made especially for the Columbus auction.  This is wonderful.   



Q: What have past proceeds done to benefit CSIA?

A: Much of what has been raised in the time I’ve been associated with the CSIA benefit auction went to pay off the tech center’s mortgage, and we accomplished that mission. In recent years our proceeds have helped CSIA enforce the integrity of our trademark. Funds also to help establish new educational programs. 

Q: What will proceeds of this year’s auction go towards?

A: This year’s proceeds will be used to help fund the writing of a “white paper” regarding factory-built fireplace and chimney systems.

MORE: What’s on tap at the NCSG Convention. View the schedule.

Q: Other thoughts on the auction?

A: I want to acknowledge the generosity of not only every vendor and sweep for their items, but also the many volunteers who give of their time to act as “roadies” and “runners” throughout the day. This event would be impossible without them. And to our auctioneer extraordinaire and former sweep Randy Atkinson, who ensures both a fun and a profitable night of bidding. Lastly I’d like to thank Debbie Cornelius for everything she does from contacting vendors, coordinating the volunteers and to making sure everything is in place for a great night. 

BONUS: We asked Judd if he expected anything memorable from this year’s auction. Here’s what he told us, via our Soundcloud channel.


Two class acts

March 7, 2014

CSIA knows that our National Chimney Sweep Training School is in demand based on an indisputable metric: the classes sell out.

We actually enrolled 31 students in our April 14-19 class, the first of 2014, which is one more spot than we usually schedule. (We’ll have an extra instructor, because we like to have low teacher-to-sweep ratios.)

We also know that the 6-day school is popular and useful, because of the feedback forms that get returned to us.

One of our proudest affirmations — and this one was unsolicited — occurred today, when two graduates of the June 2013 NCSTS stopped by CSIA’s booth at the Hearth, Patio and Barbecue Expo in Salt Lake City, Utah. The grads live reasonably close to the HBPA show, a popular event because of all the latest heating appliances on display as well as the numerous educational classes that are held, many chimney related.

The class that the two graduates – Jake Hotsenpiller and Jason Brown – were eager to share with us their experience with the school.

MORE: Visit Jake and Jason’s profiles on our zip-code finder on csia.org.

They work at HomCo Lumber & Hardware, a home improvement specialist in Arizona that sells beautiful fireplaces and wood stoves for customers who are looking for an efficient way to heat their homes without breaking the bank on monthly utility bills.

They offer a variety of wood, gas and pellet appliances, and even install and service your existing unit for you.

As their website explains, “Additionally, our team of chimney sweeps will clean and inspect your chimney with Chim Scan, a specially-designed camera that helps detect cracks that would otherwise go undetected. HomCo Lumber & Hardware is certified by the National Fireplace Institute to ensure the safety of your family and your home upon installation and use of any fireplace or stove.”


CSIA Treasurer Jim Bostaph with Jason Brown (center) and Jake Hotsenpiller.

We asked the two what would prompt them to make the 1,500-mile trek from Flagstaff, AZ, to Plainfield, IN, for the six-day course. Both said that they had done chimney inspections, albeit on a limited basis, and their company had also done it in the past and, in fact, had many tools of the chimney inspection trade.

But they talked to us about the difference between having the equipment and having equipment they could identify AND use expertly.

Our Training School is just that – a place to learn. In addition to classroom training, hands-on programs are also held each evening at the Technology Center over six days to provide an opportunity to practice using the tools of the trade and become familiar with different chimney systems.


MORE: Act fast! The April class is sold out, and there are just three more opportunities: June, August and September.

The two said they were both amazed at the complexity of what’s taught but also appreciative to have the new knowledge, and that it had helped them do their job better.

And if they are doing their jobs better, that means the customer is better serviced because they have an experienced person guiding them to safe enjoyment of their heating appliance.

Jake told me, “I had some uncertainty, but it made my job easier.”

And Jason agreed, telling me that the job of a chimney sweep was more than just getting the keys to a van and being told to go to a customer’s home to “get soot out of a fireplace.” Now he knows what he’s doing and can be of help.

Ashley Eldridge, CSIA’s director of education, said the fact that Jason and Jake came by CSIA’s booth to say “hi” reinforces an additional benefit that results from CSIA certification – the connections that are established, and reinforced, over time.

Those relationships can last throughout the sweeps’ career, and are enduring.



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