Oct. 13, 1951: Chasing fire trucks is his specialty

It’s no compliment when a lawyer is called an ambulance chaser, but fire truck chaser is a complimentary moniker for Edward A. Radke of 38 Rutledge Avenue. Often his jet-black truck pulls up at a house even before the fire engines have left the scene.

Mr. Radke is a chimney cleaner — the old-fashioned title chimney sweep went out with Dickens. In many cases, the Fire Department tells its clients who have just undergone a chimney blaze that they cannot light their fires until the flues have been cleaned.

Hence the rapid arrival of Mr. Radke. The graying, 49-year-old cleaner is now approaching his busiest season, or rather his busiest normal season.

Emergency calls are another thing — they usually mount up around Christmas time — after the horse has left the stable. Mr. Radke explains it this way: “Everybody piles their wrappings from presents in the fireplace — and it’s just too much heat.”

Around that time of year he spends so much time rattling around the chimneys that some kids have confused him with Santa Claus. Oddly enough, the chimney cleaner would just as soon pursue his soot-chipping in winter. He turns off the furnace (no one as yet has been dumb enough to turn it back on) and goes to work.

The soot is dryer in the winter — there’s no condensation in the ashes found in the warmer months. Although a chimney cleaner is often thought of as scurrying down chimney shafts, it is actually only occasionally that Mr. Radke ever enters a chimney.

“Just the mansions,” he explains, “have big enough chimneys for me to go down.” Offhand, Mr. Radke doesn’t know how many inches wide a chimney has to be before he will squeeze into it.

His practiced eye tells him at a glance whether the flue is big enough. However, for the methodical, he has figured out that he never enters a chimney unless has about 22 inches in width to play with. Even so, he does down the chimney catty-cornered.

It’s too easy to get stuck if the straight descent is practiced.

He goes down hand over hand, and returns via the same strenuous method.

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