BILLINGS- The Montana cold weather is moving in and maybe you’ve turned on your heater. Perhaps you’ve wanted to light a cozy fire inside your home.
But have you had your chimney cleaned lately?
The latest statistics by the National Fire Protection Association shows 28 percent of all home fires are caused by failure to clean a heat source such as chimneys, according to a December 2017 report.
So because of that, Billings chimney sweep Lamonte Johnson keeps a busy schedule working through the soot and dust to keep those alarming chimney fire statistics down.
He owns Mr. C’s Chimney and Air Duct Cleaning in Billings and has been doing the work for 28 years. On Wednesday, he was starting his busy day at a home in Lockwood’s Emerald Hills subdivision.
“What we got here is a customer who has a wood stove down in the basement,” Johnson yelled as he stood on top of the homeowner’s roof, getting ready to brush the chimney smokestack.
If you watch him, he works fast and thorough.
“Yeah, I’m pretty familiar with this chimney,” he said.
On this particular day, Johnson had two fireplaces to clean in the same home. One is a wood stove.
“They do it every year, every single year and it’s dirty every year,” he said. “It’s not as messy. We have a vacuum down there to make sure that you don’t have to cover your furniture.”
As he vacuumed and brushed the inside of the homeowner’s basement wood stove he talked openly about his work, why he does it and why he believes it’s important.
“I started almost 28 years ago. I didn’t realize I was a kid when I started, but I was,” he said.
Through the years, he’s come to know his customers’ needs well, even working in surrounding states as his Billings-based business grows.
Still all the while, safety is on his mind. His own safety when he’s climbing up ladders and walking on roofs, and his customer’s safety to ensure they will never be victim to a chimney fire.
According to the National Fire Protection Association, chimney fires are a common sight this time of year.
The agency says heating equipment fires accounted for 15% of all reported home fires in 2011-2015.
Space heaters are often involved in home heating fires, accounting for just over 43 percent.
The report also lists the leading factor contributing to 53 percent of home heating fires was heating equipment too close to things that can burn.
And lastly, the leading factor contributing to home heating fires was the failure to clean heating equipment, such as chimneys.
Johnson said he sees it firsthand.
“I have many customers where I show up and get into the chimney and come back down and go, you know you had a fire right? A lot of one-story homes will flash and then put themselves out before people even know,” he said.
So he hopes his work is effective in keeping homes safe from fire.
“I keep saying the words 28 years, after 28 years I love what I do. There are moments I don’t, but I do,” Johnson said. “Between this and air ducts, it’s just I like seeing something start out dirty and then get clean.”