One-on-one with John Bently

November 19, 2015

After the most recent C-DET workshop, I had a chance to sit down with CSIA instructor/industry expert/successful business owner, John Bently, to get his take on why becoming and staying CSIA Certified is so important for chimney sweeps and dryer exhaust technicians. In addition, John also reflected on what he as a consumer would want to know before hiring someone to perform service in his home, and even how he runs his own successful sweeping business.

You can view the full video below, but here are a few of John’s quotes which I thought really stood out.

On why CSIA certifies Dryer Exhaust Technicians as well as Chimney Sweeps:

“Dryer vents, chimneys, (and) air ducts are all the same thing: a passageway that accumulates unwanted material. Some are vertical, some are horizontal … we need to service them all. They all need regular maintenance.”

On getting and staying CSIA Certified:

“When you’re (CSIA) certified and maintain that certification, it does take a great deal of effort and to put forth that effort, you’re going to be involved in what you’re doing.”

“For me, certification means I care enough to try and stay in the front of my field. (Certification means) keeping at the head of the pack, pushing the envelope and trying to keep your own experience and expertise at the top level that you can.”

“Maintaining the (CSIA) certification is not cheap and it is not easy. It does take effort, but if you expend that effort you will be rewarded for it.”

On CSIA hands-on training:

“The ability to come in (to the CSIA Tech Center) and see real life situations, the lab equipment.. and just getting your hands on … it’s invaluable.”

“The instructors with CSIA are industry leaders. The majority of them have been in the industry for usually decades and they have a wealth of knowledge and they are able to pass it on to attendees of the school and classes and that is worth its weight in gold.”

*If you stick around to the end of the video below you’ll also get to hear John’s answer to my question about whether or not dryer vent cleaning has been a lifelong calling :)


A Frightening Blast from the Past

October 26, 2015

I’ve been in this role for just over a week now, so I thought it was time to go ahead and update the blog. I was initially pretty worried I wouldn’t have any content to post before the end of October, but then a conversation with Ashley, our Director of Education, revealed the existance of an old VHS-era CSIA Public Service Announcement, narrated by none other than Mr. Dick Van Dyke (also know as “Bert”, the most famous Cockney chimney sweep in the history of moving pictures).

So, just in-time for Halloween, here is a frighteningly-dated PSA about indoor fire safety, entitled Keep the Monster Out. Judging the by the music, haircuts, and eyewear-size, I’m going to take a wild guess and say this was created between 1988 and 1992. No one around here seems to know for sure :)



CSIA Names New Director of Marketing & Communications

October 14, 2015

jordan prINDIANAPOLIS, Oct. 14, 2015- The Chimney Safety Institute of America (CSIA) is pleased to announce the hiring of Jordan Whitt, who will join the CSIA team as its Director of Marketing & Communications. Within these roles, Jordan will lead outreach efforts for promoting chimney safety and increasing the number of CSIA-Certified Chimney Sweeps and Dryer Exhaust Technicians, while assisting current CSIA credential-holders in developing their own effective brands.

“Jordan will make an excellent addition to the CSIA team and we will benefit from the experience he brings to the table.” said Frances Kelly, CSIA’s Executive Director.
Whitt comes to CSIA with more than seven years of experience in marketing, public relations, and nonprofit promotions. Most recently, Whitt worked for the Presbyterian Mission Agency, in the office of Special Offerings. There, he led efforts to promote the importance of charitable giving by providing live presentations, producing commercial-quality videos, and developing the four Special Offerings brands. This background has helped Whitt to transition easily into his current role at CSIA.“I was immediately drawn to CSIA’s commitment to ensuring everyone has a right to a safe and warm home,” Whitt said. “I’m looking forward to working with the CSIA team to assist Certified Chimney Sweeps across the country to not only improve their skillsets, but also increase their business.”In addition to his marketing and promotions experience, Whitt has extensive experience in crisis communications, through volunteering as a Disaster Public Affairs spokesperson for the Indiana region of the American Red Cross and through working directly with the Indiana Department of Homeland Security during emergency operations and national-level exercises. Prior to graduating from Indiana University with two bachelor’s degrees, Whitt worked as a firefighter and Emergency Medical Technician (EMT) in his hometown of Indianapolis, Indiana.“I’m excited for the chance to combine the knowledge I’ve gained through my experiences in both nonprofit marketing and in public safety,” Whitt said, “I have always been driven to pursue opportunities with organizations that prioritize protecting and serving others over all else.”

What the U.S. can learn as fire departments in England educate homeowners about chimney fires

September 9, 2015

[Credit: @jbaldyUK]

[Credit: @jbaldyUK]

You might think that of all places that know the value of a well-maintained chimney, the United Kingdom would top the list. After all, it was in 16th century England that the trend of fireplaces and chimneys really caught on.

Yet, despite that head start, chimney fires remain as much an issue overseas as they are in the United States (which averaged an eye-popping 22,700 fires from 2010 to 2012) and first-responders are doing something about it!

This week [Sept. 7-13] is “Chimney Fire Safety Week” in the UK and you’ll find fire departments from Cheshire to Wiltshire writing about the need for inspections prior to the 2015-16 winter burning season.

Richard Priest, head of Buckinghamshire Fire & Rescue Service’s community safety team, tells residents in his jurisdiction to “make sure your chimney is ready for the winter months ahead, by a professional, qualified chimney sweep. With the colder part of the year looming, people will begin to start using open fires again. All chimneys and flueways should be cleaned and checked to ensure they’re free from debris and in full working order before the heating season.”

Priest continues: “A blocked or defective chimney can cause carbon monoxide poisoning as well as a fire. Make sure your chimney is swept regularly, depending upon what fuel you burn, and that you have working smoke alarms in your home, and test them once a week.”

Does this sound familar? It’s a drum that the Chimney Safety Institute of America beats quite frequently. CSIA in the United States frequently works with firefighters so they understand how to combat chimney fires. We also then educate the public. [We even publish a free public safety bulletin, and it’s on our website for anyone to download.]

VIDEO: CSIA teamed with Indianapolis-area fire department on outreach in 2014

“England is like us in many ways regarding the need for annual inspections,” says John Pilger, a past president of the CSIA who serves on CSIA’s board of directors and is the International Relations Committee Chairman for CSIA and the National Chimney Sweep Guild. Pilger, of Smithtown, New York, is also a former fire chief. “It’s great to have the firefighters internationally talking about fires, because everybody listens to firefighters, the experts in fire prevention and response.”

And what we learn from this is that chimney flue fires don’t discriminate –whether in London, England or London, Kentucky.

We’re seeing many social media posts about England’s Chimney Fire Safety Week.

Cheshire Fire & Rescue includes tips on its website that are applicable in the United States and, in many ways, mirror the public safety message of the Chimney Safety Institute of America. It states that the “most common causes of chimney fires” are:

  • Improper appliance sizing
  • Burning unseasoned wet wood
  • Infrequent sweeping and cleaning
  • Overnight burning or smoldering wood for long periods in wood stoves

Wiltshire Fire & Rescue Service offers some tips as well:

  • Don’t use flammable liquids such as petrol or paraffin to light your fire.
  • Don’t burn excessive amounts of paper or rubbish.
  • Don’t overload the fire with fuel.
  • When the fire is alight, check the loft space occasionally to make sure there is no smoke leaking from cracks, defective brickwork or mortar joints.

There are some great tips from Buckinghamshire and Milton Keynes:

Top tips for safer chimneys

  • Always use a fire guard to protect against flying sparks from hot embers.
  • Make sure embers are properly put out before you go to bed.
  • Keep chimneys and flues clean and well maintained.
  • If you have recently opened up or about to start to use a fireplace, make sure it is inspected by a qualified person.
  • When burning wood, use dry, seasoned woods only. Never burn cardboard boxes or waste paper.
  • Inspect your chimney breast, particularly in the roof space. Make sure that it is sound and that the sparks or fumes cannot escape through cracks or broken bricks.
  • Ensure wood burners are installed and maintained in accordance with the manufacturer’s instructions.
  • Make sure the appliance receives enough air to allow the fuel to burn properly. Consider having a carbon monoxide detector fitted.

To find a CSIA Certified Chimney Sweep to perform your annual inspection, check out the zip-code locator on CSIA’s website.

For more: https://www.facebook.com/firekills



CSIA increasing awareness of chimney inspection issues at a journalism convention

September 4, 2015

The Chimney Safety Institute of America has a special surprise waiting for attendees at the Excellence in Journalism convention to be held in Orlando, Florida Sept. 18-20.

In over 1,400 convention tote bags will be a business card with CSIA’s logo, and a chimney figurine zip-tied to it, with the phrase “Little Sweep, Giant Mission” on the front.

On the back? A promotion of CSIA’s National Chimney Safety Week, to be held Sept. 27-Oct. 3. The hashtag reads #SafeWarmHome in recognition of this year’s theme, which is built off of our Vision Statement. CSIA believes everyone should enjoy a safe, warm home.

Staff members at CSIA’s 10,000-square-foot headquarters in Plainfield, Indiana, spent two days assembling the items. We also discussed the potential impact of a positive reaction/reception to the idea from the media and journalism educators. The Excellence in Journalism 2015 conference is billed as the “journalism event of the year” and will be host to top news professionals from broadcast, print and digital newsrooms around the country, according to its website description.

They are newsroom decision makers, leaders, station managers, reporters, producers, content managers, editors, freelancers and educators.

VIDEO: Watch our how-we-made-it story for #EIJ15.

We hope attendees see our trinket and go to our special online page, csia.org/media; do a story or refer a colleague to do a story; be moved to locate the CSIA certified professional in their city, and do a story; or, perhaps, they’ll do nothing more than tweet a picture of the chimneyman along with the #safewarmhome hashtag.

While attention-seeking, this is no gimmick by CSIA. Television and print reporters are our allies in accomplishing CSIA’s public safety mission in reducing the number of unwanted fires.

PREVIOUS: Consumer Product Safety Commission latest figures for chimney fires. 

Since CSIA has over 1,600 CSIA Certified Chimney Sweeps working in 48 U.S. states, it’s a worthwhile and newsworthy story that any reporter can do, to help readers or watchers of its news. (We also hope it demonstrates commitment that we work hard to make a valuable credential worth the investment to our pros!)

National Chimney Safety Week in the United States is Sept. 27-Oct. 3; it occurs just before NFPA’s Fire Prevention Week, Oct. 4-10.

If you are a reporter, go to CSIA.org/media for more!

Tom Spalding 





September’s here, and with it comes National Chimney Safety Week | What fireplaces get inspected?

September 1, 2015

 It’s hard to believe — until you see that the leaves on the trees have already started changing colors. Fall is just around the corner. The month of September starts hot and finishes on fire, in that it signifies National Chimney Safety Week, Sept. 27-Oct. 3.

Your house’s chimney is easy to forget. It’s not used every day, and for many people it’s been an afterthought since May or earlier. The fireplace and chimney are neglected until the moment they’re needed.

Don’t let that neglect turn into a 911 call.

“Fires in chimneys can start for a variety of reasons. They can be poorly built, or incorrectly designed, or the chimney flue sees a buildup of creosote over time,” says Ashley Eldridge, director of education for CSIA, based in Plainfield, IN. “If you’ve ignored the need for an inspection, you are taking a risk.”

Your chances of having another chimney fire increase if you’ve already had one. Chimney fires are not always a blazing infernos on the side of your house. They can be slow-burning, and you may not even know you’ve had one.

The National Fire Protection Association recommends annual chimney inspections, and cleaned when needed; your approach should be based on usage.

(Some homeowners even get a second inspection during the burning season!)

How do you find a professional chimney sweep? CSIA, a nonprofit formed in 1983, has a great resource right on our homepage — just put in your zip code.

What type of firebox needs an inspection? Wood-burning fireplaces/chimneys might come to mind initially, but so do gas-burning fireplaces. Natural gas or propane logs do not produce the visible soot and creosote as wood logs do, but they are depositing a fair amount of corrosive substances into your chimney.

Gas fireplaces should have their ceramic logs checked as they can deteriorate and clog the vents and pilot light. This will not only help prevent chimney fires, but fireplace issues as well, which can occur when the pilot light and other connections are not functioning correctly.

Take care of your chimney. One of the most relaxing things on a cold winter night is to sit by the cozy warmth of  fireplace.

While we’re at it; CSIA is a Weather-Ready Nation ambassador; we have a duty to let all know that the season is more than just leaves crunching under feet. It can also bring weather hazards such as strong storms with whipping winds, early season snows and floods. Don’t let dangerous fall weather catch you unprepared! With just a few simple steps, you can be weather-ready for whatever comes this fall.

Here’s what you can do:

1. Know Your Risk

  • Check weather.gov every morning before you leave home to make sure you’re prepared for what the weather might bring.

2. Take Action!

3. Be A Force of Nature

  • Inspire others to take action by showing your friends and family how you are prepared. You can tell them over the phone or in person, or tweet or post about it.

— Tom Spalding

(And additional thanks to writer Laura Nedig; we used excerpts of an interview we conducted with her for a 2014 blog post.)


Firefighters, chimney and dryer exhaust, and why CSIA exhibited at #fri15

August 29, 2015

ATLANTA, Georgia — You have to wear multiple hats when you exhibit at a trade show featuring firefighters from all areas of the country, first-responders that represent large metropolitan populations as well as tiny towns. Some are full-time departments; others are volunteer.

The multiple hats are necessary because attendees here at the Fire-Rescue International Show all have different concerns or needs to be met.

And the Chimney Safety Institute of America is here to serve ALL of them, believe it or not.

For starters, CSIA is different than most exhibitors. The job is to represent chimney sweeps and dryer exhaust technicians; other booths people are selling respirators, full-body decontamination towels, t-shirts and — yes, education.

For starters, we’re making sure they know about the vision statement of CSIA — that every family enjoys a safe, warm home. Some people asked about hiring a CSIA Certified Chimney Sweep. We showed firefighters (and their loved ones) how easy it is to use our free zip-code locator at CSIA.org/search. 

We provided tchotchkes that ingrained our message to the old and to the very young.

Boys shining their ccs and c-det smashlights.

A Madison, Alabama fire department captain on Friday told me (unsolicited) that he was pleased by Chimney Safety Institute of America’s presence, because we answered loads of chimney fire questions: “Glad to see you all have a booth here. This is definitely stuff that firefighters have to deal with.”

Dustin Spires, attendee.

We passed out many chimney sweep figurines — effective conversation starters about the chimney/venting industry’s precious history and bright future. 


Chimney sweep figurines, which we purchased (at a generous discount) from Wohler.

Thanks especially to Art Schlagen of Indiana and Blake Crocker of North Carolina who recently (and separately) earned their CSIA C-DET Dryer Exhaust Credential. Both are firefighters and allowed us to use their photo on two C-DET specific tradeshow backdrops. (The more the  merrier when it comes to better-trained professionals in the U.S., because the customer wins!)

Art Schlagen of Rescue Duct (left) and Blake Crocker of Smoke Alert (right).

We established, hopefully, relationships that will serve the purpose of providing homeowners with awareness. Several departments graciously agrees to try out CSIA’s “After The Fire” brochure, meant to educate chimney fire victims. There are a lot of fires that affect homes and businesses, and this fact sheet helps in their knowledge of what to do next. 

Several firefighters were excited to hear about CSIA’s certification opportunities, especially in areas where they reside that lacks one of our certified pros for 50 miles or greater!

Brochures on the table included “After The Fire” and also advertise our credentials — CSIA Certified Chimney Sweep and CSIA Certified Dryer Exhaust Technician.

This is the last show of the 2014-15 budget season for CSIA that has included insurers (September, NAMIC in MD), home inspectors ;NAHI in Pittsburgh, ASHI in Philly, InspectorLab in Vegas), hearth professionals (HPBA in Nashville), and air duct cleaners (NADCA in Marco Island.) 

Have any questions? Want a copy of our brochures? Ask at tspalding@csia.org.

-Tom Spalding


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