An opinion piece from Eugene LaFlamme.
The National Chimney Sweep Guild Convention is a great time to connect with old friends, network within the industry, and peruse the manufacturer show room.
A critical component of the convention is also the continuing education opportunities it offers — namely, the CSIA’s Certified Chimney Sweep program.
While chimney sweeps have been around for hundreds of years, the industry continues to evolve as new products are introduced, technology advances, and codes change or are amended.
Obtaining the CSIA Certified Chimney Sweep designation gives a sweep many advantages over its non-certified competitors. The certification is a nationally recognized and standardized program. It also requires sweeps to renew their credentials every three years by meeting certain continuing educational requirements.
It is likely not a coincidence that a new edition of NFPA 211 is also published every three years. Therefore, by holding the CSIA Certified Chimney Sweep designation, the consumer can be assured that the sweep knows the current code and is educated on any recent changes within the chimney and hearth industries.
It also likely goes without saying that training and education reduces the number of accidents or errors that could lead to a fire. Unfortunately, however, chimney fires do occur and they can occur for any number of reasons.
A lot of times it has nothing to do with the sweep’s work at the property and that may remain true even if the sweep recently serviced the chimney system.
For example, while a sweep may have recently cleaned a chimney and conducted a Level 1 inspection, a fire could still occur due to clearance issues in a concealed area. Clearance issues in a concealed area are obviously outside the scope of a Level 1 inspection. Nonetheless, that has not stopped plaintiffs, and property insurers in particular, from pursuing sweeps in similar circumstances. In such instances, one of the first items of evidence a plaintiff demands in litigation are copies of a sweep’s training records.
These records, or the lack thereof, could play a major role in a civil suit.
If a sweep is not certified, or the training has not been well documented, a plaintiff will exploit that situation to portray the sweep as sloppy or careless. On the other hand, if a sweep is certified through CSIA and that certification has been consistently maintained, the plaintiff will have a difficult time attacking the sweep’s industry knowledge and training.
Further, it has been my experience that certified and well-trained sweeps make much better witnesses than sweeps that do not make training and education a priority. Simply, industry certification and continued education will provide a sweep’s defense team more ammunition to counter any claims that a sweep failed to meet industry standards in conducting its work at a property. While obtaining the CSIA certification will cost some minimal time and money, the benefits of obtaining this certification greatly outweigh those factors on a number of levels.
Eugene M. LaFlamme is a partner at McCoy Leavitt Laskey LLC [view his biography], a national defense firm specializing in fire and explosion cases. Eugene’s practice focuses on the defense of companies involved in the hearth and chimney industries. Contact him by e-mail at elaflamme@MLLLaw.com. Eugene is presenting “In the Line of Fire: Everyday Steps to Protect Your Business in Litigation” at the NCSG Convention in Lancaster, PA. [see schedule.]
This article originally appeared in the January 2015 edition of NCSG’s Sweeping magazine.