Chimney cleaner sweeps across basin’s rooftops
Vic Froberg is his own boss. The job can get a little dirty, but he spends his days outdoors, and from the rooftops of Tahoe, “Whew, what a sight.”
Froberg might agree with Dick Van Dyke’s estimation in Mary Poppins on a chimney sweep’s views, but don’t expect him to don a top hat and tails to do his job.
“Do you know how hot and uncomfortable that would be,” Froberg said. “It’s ridiculous.”
After 20 years in the business as Chip’s Chimney Service, Froberg’s customers don’t seem to mind his lack of nostalgia. From July to February, Froberg’s customers keep him up on the roofs of Tahoe seven days a week.
“I work, usually, a 14-hour day, except on the days the Vikings play at home,” Froberg said. “My son plays football and my daughter is a cheerleader. I can’t miss that.”
The work is hard and sometimes perilous. Falls and electrocution are real dangers. Froberg broke several ribs in a fall from a metal roof, and he has lost friends to a misplaced ladder touching an electrical line. The risk and difficulties also provides job security. Froberg isn’t concerned about losing his job to new technology. In fact, besides more advanced vacuums to help keep down soot, the tools of the trade haven’t changed much in more than a century.
“Half of my van is full of brushes. I have wire brushes, synthetic brushes, brushes of all different sizes. I have rods that can bend so they touch, to get back into setbacks and around corners,” Froberg said.
When it comes to chimneys Froberg has seen the gamut.
“I go out to the older areas of Tahoe and see stuff that should have had meltdowns 50 years ago and they’re still going fine. Then I see new stuff that doesn’t last for very long at all.”
As the September nights get cooler, residents start to heat up their wood stoves and fireplaces. Without a proper inspection that can spell disaster.
“The guideline in a mason chimney is any more than one-quarter of an inch of creosote is too much. In a prefabricated chimney, it is no more than one-eighth of an inch. Any more than that is enough built-up fuel to cause structural damage in the event of a chimney fire,” Froberg said.
To avoid building up the dark brown, flammable tar caused by wood smoke, Froberg said people should get their chimney hot every time they reload their stove or fireplace with wood.
“Creosote doesn’t adhere to hot surfaces,” he said. “The most important tool is a stack thermometer. The most common mistake is not getting the fire up to temperature and then choking them down too soon. The thermometer acts like a speedometer. I’ve been burning wood and using stoves for more than 20 years, but if you took my thermometer away, I couldn’t operate it properly.”
Despite the dangers and long hours in precipitous locations, Froberg isn’t planning on changing careers.
“It’s a living in Tahoe, and there are not many jobs you can say that about,” he noted. “Some days the hawks fly over head, and it’s pretty cool.”
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