Humble chimney sweep

JESS LEE
Last updated 05:00 26/02/2014
Ciaran Fitzpatrick
CHIM CHIMNEY: Ciaran Fitzpatrick is a chimney sweep by trade. He cleans, knocks down and rebuilds chimneys for his Grey Lynn-based company Complete Chimney Care.

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There's much more to the chimney maintenance trade than just soot and brooms.

But when Grey Lynn man Ciaran Fitzpatrick gets to work cleaning, you'd think not much has changed since Dick van Dyke and his chimney sweeping crew danced across rooftops in Mary Poppins.

Mr Fitzpatrick and his partner Kimberly Muncaster started their business in 2012.

An average day can include everything from cleaning to knocking down, replastering and rebuilding chimneys across Auckland.

It's a job people often forget about but is vitally important, Mr Fitzpatrick says.

Cleaning rods are used to clean some from the bottom up and some from the roof down. A chimney should be cleaned at least once a year to clear the flue of blockages. Neglecting it can be fatal in the worst cases with a potential for the chimney to catch fire or collapse.

"I can't believe how many you see that are cracked from top to bottom or have bricks missing.

"But you don't often look up at it. There always seem to be more pressing things to fix because it's not one of those things that's in your face."

Mr Fitzpatrick is at his busiest during winter when a cold snap reminds people to get their fire cleaned out.

He was 22 years old when he first picked up the trade from a family friend in his native Ireland.

"They were building chimneys the old way and it just grew from there really. I loved working with my hands and getting outside - I was never an office man," he says.

Safety rules and regulations have improved over the years and are particularly strict in New Zealand, he says. It means a harness is mandatory for working on a roof.

But you never quite know what to expect in this trade. Birds and beehives are some of the surprises he encounters on the job.

"I was removing honeycomb from one in Te Atatu. There was a full hive in their chimney - I was up to a metre and a half in honey."

Good old-fashioned customer service is the key, Mr Fitzpatrick says.

"Just do it right. Turning up on time and just be thorough with the job. The trade industry is appalling for letting people down - people tell me at the door that they can't believe we're on time."

There will always be a place for the humble chimney sweep, Ms Muncaster says.

"Especially for someone with the skill to rebuild and knock them down.

"People like fires so there are always going to be fires. That's never going to change."

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- © Fairfax NZ News

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