The Accidental Chimney Sweep

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Are you looking for an Alameda chimney cleaner? Meet Sally McKnight—Sal to her friends, the woman behind The Irish Sweep. This is the story of how she got an unexpected start in the industry.

Sally Answers an Ad

In 1982, Sally responded to an advertisement that was placed by Jim Halloran, a hot-headed New Yorker from Brooklyn who started the original company in the 70s with guts and determination, but no real plan. He hired her to work part time in the office, answering phones and scheduling appointments.

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She was a fast typist at a time when things were still done by hand, but she didn’t yet know anything about fireplaces or chimneys so she wasn’t (in her own words) an “effective communicator with customers.” Truth be told, Jim Halloran didn’t know much more than his new office assistant did, but he struck out to learn from experience.

This is a photo of him with his first sweeping vehicle and his trusty dog, Sweeper.

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One day, Halloran asked Sally if she would be willing to ride along with him in the van and sweep some chimneys. He needed an extra set of hands. She agreed and that was the beginning of their future partnership. Of that initial experience, Sally said, “Well, I went out there and just loved being outdoors all day long, meeting new people along the way, working in some amazing homes and gaining new skills.” She quit her other retail position and joined the business full time.

Chim-Chimney

But it wasn’t easy. Not only were they learning on the job, but when she first began, some customers called her a “powder puff” and questioned how a woman could do the work, while others wouldn’t let her touch their fireplace unless she sang and danced “Chim-Chimney”—from the beloved children’s movie Mary Poppins.

Buying The Irish Sweep

Later, a partnership was formed and Sally became half owner of The Irish Sweep. But eventually she became frustrated with Jim and offered him a buyout.  She scraped together enough cash to purchase Halloran’s half of the business. The year was 1988. A lot has changed since then, but Sally is still the dynamic force behind The Irish Sweep.

Since those early years, she has become an educator in her community, having sat on the Board of Directors for the National Chimney Sweep Guild and for the Chimney Safety Institute of America. She has also been President of the Golden State Chimney Sweep Guild, and now serves as treasurer. Not bad for a “powder puff.”

Talk to an Alameda Chimney Cleaner

To schedule an appointment with an Alameda chimney cleaner at The Irish Sweep, call us at (510)521-4088 or use this simple contact form by clicking here. You can also read testimonials on our site. Your safety is our number one priority. We look forward to hearing from you.