Dirty jobs: Captain Kirk, the beekeeping, bagpiping, biker chimney sweep
It’s hard to imagine a dirtier job that messing around with a sooty chimney – ask Santa. But “Captain” Kirk Hart the chimney sweep loves his work. He has a business motto: To boldly go where no chimney sweep has gone before. His business used to be called Economy Chimney Services but a customer persuaded him to change it to Captain Kirk. It may seem he is in the wrong business since he admittedly doesn’t like to be dirty, but he insists it’s perfect for him.
“It’s a new adventure every day,” Hart, 52, said.
We asked him to give us the low down dirty truth about his job.
Q: How do you clean a chimney?
A: First we take a picture of the house, then carry tarps, rug runners and whatever we need to keep the house clean. Then we take a picture of the fireplace. Each of my three trucks has a camera we can run up and down the chimney so we can do a sort of colonoscopy of the chimney. We assess the chimney and make sure it is to code because it has to be sound and safe to sweep. If necessary we do repairs, then we set up a vacuum and start using our brushes.
Q: Do you have the traditional top hat and tails?
A: Sure do, and suspenders. Usually I wear black coveralls to hide any soot. The top hat and tails came about after sweeps got a bad rap from Dickens. Sweeps wanted to look more respectable. That’s also when the wide brushes came into use so little kids didn’t have to go down chimneys any more. Then the legend is a sweep fell off a roof – an occupational hazard – but he was saved when his suspenders caught on the eaves, and they are now considered good luck.
A: How did you get into the business?
A: Actually I had trained at the police academy and was waiting for placement when a buddy of mine who was a sweep broke his hand. I took over for him. I am driven. I have to take over whatever I do. When I was working my way through college, I got a job as a dishwasher. By the end of the summer I was the executive cook in the restaurant. So I really got into sweeping and found I love it. My favorite part is getting out there to meet people.
Q: What’s the toughest job you ever did?
A: I cleaned chimneys at George Lucas’ house. He had eight chimneys, and had had a chimney fire which was why he called me in. We found there were still cracks in a chimney that had to fixed. Sometimes someone has to go into a chimney. I’m a claustrophobe but fortunately one of my crew is a real skinny guy. Every job is a different and offers its own challenges. That’s one of the things I like about it.
Q: How do you clean up?
A: There’s a product pr88 invented by German sweeps. It’s lanolin based glycerin. It cleans us up right away. We wash immediately after every job otherwise people wouldn’t let us in their homes. Our hands do get stained. I also stress safety. We wear HEPA filtered respirators to guard against black lung.
Q: Ever find anything stuck in a chimney?
A: All the time, dead animals, jackets and hats roofers dropped. We find balls and other toys. I’ve rescued trapped animals like squirrels and raccoons, found dead ones. The most memorable was a barn owl I found trapped behind a fireplace insert. I took him home, nursed him back to health and set him free. Once a hawk landed on a chimney sweep. Turned out it had escaped from a falconer and it wanted the sweep to feed him.
Q: Is the business regulated?
A: No, but the Chimney Safety Institute of America tests and certifies chimney sweeps and people should always ask for that certification when they hire a sweep to be sure it’s done safely. I advise people to get their chimney inspected and if necessary cleaned after each cord of wood they burn. Buy two cords, let one age, then get another to age when you burn the first one.
Q: What do you do for fun?
A: I ride a Harley, sometimes pull a trailer with it to jobs. I keep bees, and I play in the Scottish Games. I toss a caber and the sledge hammer. Now I am learning to play the bagpipe.