The European Energy Watch Group hosted its 100th anniversary of the Vienna Chimney Sweep Guild (der Wiener-Rauchfangkehrermeisterschaft) in Vienna, Austria, and Grant Darrow of Elgin was among six American sweeps who attended.
Chimney sweeps from Austria in white skull caps pose with U.S. sweeps Grant Darrow of Elgin, center, and Allan Bopp of Sandpoint, Idaho, left. German master sweep. The group is posed in front of the Vienna City Hall where 1,000 chimney sweeps celebrated the 100th anniversary of the Vienna Chimney Sweep Guild. - Photos/Eisho Watanabe
Darrow and fellow sweep Allan Bopp of Sandpoint, Idaho, both members and officers in the Oregon Chimney Sweeps Association, were two of six American sweeps who attended.
They had just marked the 30th anniversary for the Oregon association in Newport before making the trip to Vienna to participate in the guild’s four-day centennial celebration.
With one carry-on, a seven-day train pass and a pocket full of Euros, the two traveled to Austria and three other countries observing the differences between the European chimney services and the free-market chimney service industry in the U.S.
“The thousand or so chimney sweeps attending this event were almost exclusively German and Austrian master sweeps,” said Darrow. “Master sweeps are regulated by the state, and in exchange for this monopoly, they are personally responsible for every vented appliance in their district. Consequently, they are the sweep, the building official and the fire investigator all in one.”
There are 8,300 districts in Germany with as many as 2,000 private homes and buildings in each district.
The district master sweep usually has an office staffed with two or three administrative workers and three to 10 chimney sweeps who inspect the vented appliances within the district.
“By law a sweep must inspect your heating systems four times a year; consequently, it requires only a simple five-minute visit to check the gas stove,” said Darrow.
If a problem is detected during an inspection, the sweep will advise the owner of the needed repairs, Darrow said. The owner will have to hire a contractor or tradesman to perform the repair within a certain time frame. The sweep does not do this work.
“Their chimney systems are designed and tested for specific temperatures and all fuels, while chimneys here in the U.S. are designed and tested for specific types of fuel,” said Darrow.
“Every fireplace we looked up across Europe had been mortared closed. Europeans love pellet stoves, first developed here in the Northwest in the mid-1980s and fueled with waste byproducts,” Darrow said.
Unlike the state of Oregon, where a chimney sweep has to be a licensed contractor, a chimney sweep in the European Union must be educated through an apprenticeship system.
“The apprenticeship program is three years of school and training,” said Darrow. “I was pleasantly surprised to find that almost half of these young kids were young women.”
About 40 percent of young Austrians between the ages of 15 to 18 years of age are trained within the apprenticeship training system.
They must complete their compulsory schooling before enrolling into an apprenticeship program. It’s an appealing career choice because chimney sweeps in the European Union earn good wages, said Darrow.
The Vienna Chimney Sweep Guild’s centennial celebration treated its international attendees with numerous city tours, musical performances, boat trips, technical lectures, exhibitions, not to mention great beer, food and hearty singing.
But the centerpiece of the celebration, Darrow said, was the chimney sweep parade that followed an elaborate service in honor of the chimney sweeps at the emperor’s historic Votiv Church.
Darrow and Bopp wore their work clothes adorned with some coveted Mardi Gras beads that the apprentice sweeps tried unsuccessfully to barter for with neck scarves.
“At the conclusion of the church service, all the sweeps stood and walked out the door where we were met by a marching band,” said Darrow. “We then paraded, four abreast, down the closed city streets of Vienna to City Hall for a reception and banquet.”
“As we approached City Hall, someone noticed a wedding party held up in the traffic waiting for the sweeps to pass. Hundreds of sweeps descended on the bride and groom in the white Bentley. It was quite a spectacle.”
Darrow’s host for the four-day centennial celebration was Austrian Master Sweep Ranier Shaeffler, whose hospitality reflected that of everyone he met.
“The hospitality of everyone we met on our trip was over the top,” said Darrow.
To commemorate his international experience, Darrow generously presented Guild President Walter Sterjrits with a limited edition set of gold clad silver and copper coins minted by him for the 30th anniversary of the Oregon Chimney Sweeps Association Inc.
It was his gesture of international camaraderie among the master sweeps.
Darrow, who is locally known as Willie the Weep Chimney Sweep, has been in the chimney service industry since 1977. He owns and operates North Country Stoves in Elgin and serves Baker, Union and Wallowa counties.