For Bruce Howard, soot covered hands and climbing houses are daily issues as part of his work with his company, Four Seasons Chimney Service.
Bruce Howard sees a view of Clovis not many people see. He climbs ladders, wire bushes in hand, onto the roofs of homes in the city, heading for their chimneys.
Howard is a chimney sweep, soot-stained hands and all.
Compared to the chimney sweeps covered from head-to-toe with a thick layer of soot in the Disney classic, “Mary Poppins,” Howard is clean. But with his dusty work boots, sweatshirt that was once blue and black-speckled jeans, Howard definitely has a dirty job.
A seasonal service, business has been slow this year due to unseasonably warm weather, said Howard, who installs carpet the rest of the year.
“In the past, from August to Christmas, I’m real busy,” Howard said.
Howard purchased Four Seasons Chimney Service from a friend eight years ago. Although he’s climbed on hundreds on roofs since then, every once in a while the fear of falling rises to the surface.
“I get more scared the longer I do it,” said Howard, who had just returned from a job on a steep-pitched roof.
“I was on my hands and knees grabbing for anything I could get my hands on,” he said.
Karen Burns, a former fire prevention officer with the Clovis Police Department, said chimneys can be fire hazards if not properly maintained.
She said a substance called creosote, which is the residue left in the chimney after burning in a fire place, is the source of chimney fires. The creosote heats up with each additional burning, and breaks down the mortar between the bricks around the chimney. These cracks allow heat to reach the material behind the mortar, usually two-by-fours, and can start a fire.
Each chimney is different, so sweeps have to be prepared for anything, Howard said.
A wide wire brush with a long handle is run up and down the chimney from the top, loosening the soot, which falls down into the fire place. It is swept up and thrown away. A special hose is used to clean all the soot out of the fire box.
Most chimneys need to be inspected once a year, Howard said.
Kenny Jacob has owned and operated Kenny’s Chimney Service in Melrose for 17 years.
“(Sweeping) is a different deal. I get to meet a lot of people,” said Jacob, a former Portales firefighter.
“Some people get into (sweeping), realize it’s only good for a couple of months, and then move on,” Jacobs said. “I figured somebody’s got to do it.”
Jacobs tries to schedule as many jobs on the same day as possible.
“I’ll work early morning to late at night getting three to five jobs done in a day,” he said.
Jacobs learned the occupation from the business’ previous owner. The rest was on-the-job training.