Standing on the roof of the White House in Washington, D.C., Tom Rhines was too focused on the task at hand to really take in his surroundings. He was there to do a job, and he was determined to perform to the best of his abilities.
In the days and weeks since he served as a volunteer member of a nine-man crew that cleaned 25 of the 28 fireplaces at the White House, Rhines, owner of All-Chimney Cleaning and Maintenance in Charlotte, has had an opportunity to reflect on what he says is a complete honor for someone in his profession.
“It’s the highlight of one’s career if we can do something like that,” Rhines said. “It’s an opportunity to do what we do best for our country.”
The nine-man team was assembled by fellow chimney sweep Jeff Schmittinger, who started organizing the volunteer crews to clean White House chimneys in 1993. As Rhines tells it, Schmittinger contacted the White House in 1993, looking to provide a service to his country during a time of national deficit. Rhines said Schmittinger offered to clean the chimneys at no cost, and has performed the job every two to three years since (aside from a six-year stint during the Obama administration).
Rhines was named an alternate for this year’s trip, and when trying to figure out if he should actually book a hotel and transportation for this year’s service, was informed that the typical eight-man crew would be expanded to nine so that he could participate.
“I feel a little extra fortunate,” Rhines said. “It’s a once in a lifetime thing.”
The crew managed to clean and scan 25 of the 28 fireplaces inside the White House, allowing Rhines the opportunity to see many of the rooms, though he admits he was focused on the task at hand, not receiving the White House tour.
He said he may have the opportunity to return in December, once renovations at the White House are complete, to receive a proper tour. He also said he may have a chance to work on the next crew to sweep the chimneys though he suspects the opportunity will be offered to younger members of the profession.
A member of the National Chimney Sweep Guild, Rhines has been sweeping chimneys for nearly 30 years.
His business, All-Chimney Cleaning and Maintenance is a full-service operation that provides cleaning, regular maintenance, inspections, installations, repair and troubleshooting for chimneys, fireplaces, wood-burning stoves and dryer vents.
For more information or to schedule services with All-Chimney Cleaning and Maintenance, call Rhines at (517) 543-7270. You can also find more information, including important safety tips on the Chimney Safety Institute of America website at csia.org.