My Chimney Sweep Story from Denmark to the United States
Fred D. Cavinder, a correspondent from The Southsider Voice, interviewed me for an article in their publication.
Here is that article:
He’s a seasoned Skorstensfejer; that’s Danish for Chimney Sweep
Written By: Fred D. Cavinder – Southsider Voice Correspondent
When chimney sweep Mike Baun does his thing at homes in Perry Township, he brings with him years of experience and a lot of Danish history and culture. The 45-year-old Franklin resident, who married a Hoosier, had a status that exceeded firemen and was equal to the police while sweeping chimneys in Copenhagen, Denmark.
In Indiana, where he started as a sweep in December, the rules are difference, and so is his attack on fireplace grime.
“In Denmark, you had to be on the roof to clean the chimney,” he said. “Here, you can do everything from the bottom.”
That work once took him to the queen’s palace in Copenhagen. “I like to say that I am the only person outside of the palace who has been in the queen’s bedroom,” said Baun.
He became a sweep in Denmark in 1988, after four years of study in the country’s school at Toender. Then he spent about 12 years cleaning 25-30 chimneys a day. Danish laws are strict, requiring chimney cleaning in homes yearly, more often in businesses.
Baun came to Illinois on a business trip and met his wife, Brenda Williams Baun, on the Internet. They married almost 10 years ago. He worked at catering and managed a Select Comfort outlet until an Illinois chimney sweep friend urged him to resume his Danish occupation. Inquiries about his trade are welcome at (317) 627-3606; his website is baunschimneysweeping.com.
Mrs. Baun, who does secretarial work for St. Vincent Hospital’s labor and delivery department, deterred him from duplicating the fire-resistant uniforms and distinctive hats of the Danish sweeps, ala the movie “Mary Poppins.” She thought I wouldn’t have been taken seriously,” he said.
In Denmark, being a sweep is serious and as has prestige. This status stems from when a third of Copenhagen burned in 1728. Serious government measures were established to avoid a repeat.
“Nobody messes with a chimney sweep because we have the same power as a police officer has,” said Baun of Danish regulations. “If people deny us to come in, we call the policeman to help us in or get a locksmith.”
Baun sweeps chimneys from Downtown Indianapolis to Southport, Greenwood, Franklin and Columbus.
In Danish training, he and his class of 25 studied all chemicals associated with fires and fireplaces, structures of chimneys, relative room and fireplace size, oil boilers, etc. “Everything that you can imagine that could give heat, we learned about, how to take them apart and put them together,” he said.
Regulations here are far less stringent, he said, and bemoans it, especially since many people are using fireplaces more and more for heat and are changing gas fireplaces to wood.
“Not all homes are built to take firewood, to take that kind of heat.”
Baun occasionally displays artifacts from his Danish sweeping days in connections with the chambers of commerce in Franklin and Columbus, of which he is a member, to show the history behind sweeps and to educate on the safety. He also is vice president of Indianapolis Liederkrantz and is on the board of Johnson County Humane Society. The Bauns have two rescued border collies and two cats.
Some homes are using fireplaces that are oversized for the room, Baun said, which increases chances of chimney fires. There are about 25,000 chimney-related fires annually in Indiana.
His Danish studies included how to walk on often-tiled roofs, he said, “In Denmark, people have steps on the roof for us to walk on and also steps on the chimney.”
Once, he said, he lost his footing and ladder, reached for a decoration on a chimney and it came loose, dropping him painfully to the roof. He had to slide to the gutter and drop to the ground.
“Everyone who is a chimney sweep has fallen down once,” he said.
The zenith of his sweeping was about eight stories, said Baun, who has four sisters and a brother in Denmark; his brother is not a sweep.
Language here was no problem because Baun said learning English and German is mandatory in Danish schools. He also speaks Swedish and Norwegian.
The chimney sweep hat in Denmark was more than an insignia, “That’s our office,” said Baun. “All our paperwork is in there, the money, everything is in the high hat.”
He makes no effort to disclaim his background in Danish study and on Danish rooftops. “People like that a little story from Denmark.”
Images of the Article in The Southsider Voice: