With last week’s cleaning of the 32 White House chimneys completed, the residents of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue will have to wait another two years for the crew to come back. President Obama and his family were on vacation for the week, but Jeff Schmittinger and his eight person team experienced the 5.8 magnitude earthquake first hand from the top of the White House roof. The cleaning was scheduled to take 3 days but the crew took off the remaining part of the day after the earthquake so the cleaning took slightly longer than expected.
This arrangement with Jeff Schmittinger, the owner of Wisconsin Chimney Technicians of Waukesha, Wis., and his crew dates back to 1993 when in his address before Congress, former President Bill Clinton spoke about the nation’s need for budget cuts. Clinton said, “I know this economic plan is ambitious, but I honestly believe it is necessary for the continued greatness of the United States. And I think it is paid for fairly, “by asking more Americans to contribute today so that all of us can prosper tomorrow”. After hearing these words, Schmittinger sent in a proposal to the President to clean all of the White House chimneys every other year for free to do his part with lessoning the federal deficit. And the cleanings continue to this day.
The chimney sweeps must pay their own way to the capitol city and pay for their accommodations and other expenses, but they all say the cost is well worth it. One man who helped out this year said cleaning the White House chimneys for a chimney sweep is the equivalent of a musician performing in Carnegie Hall. Each chimney sweep is nominated by other professionals in the field and can only participate for two years. It is a great honor to be chosen to clean the President’s many chimneys.
In addition to braving the soot and grime inside the White House chimneys, this year’s chimney cleaning crew also had to survive an unexpected natural disaster. With the east coast earthquake hitting shortly after the work began, a few of the sweeps were caught in tedious places when the storm hit.
No, those aren’t Secret Service getting shaken around, they are Chimney Sweeps!
Denise Schmittinger, the wife of Jeff Schmittinger, was on top of one of the chimneys when she felt the shaking begin. Michael S. Elliott, owner of Central New England Chimney Sweeps in North Oxford, MA experienced the earthquake without knowing what caused the trembling. His first thought was that it may have been an attack. Elliott said, “I was terrified. I’d never felt anything like that before. I thought a truck had hit the building or there’d been an explosion underground”. But the shaking continued for another 20-30 seconds and announcements heard over the radio claimed an earthquake was the cause. The rooftop was immediately evacuated along with the rest of the White House and everyone gathered on the front lawn. Luckily, no actual damage was done to the White House, but the chimney cleaning crew took the afternoon off anyway. After a job well done, the chimney sweep survivors of the east coast earthquake have taken home with them stories of working in the President’s bedroom along with survival tales from the capitol city earthquake.