Learn More About Our Company Owner, Tommy Nelms

As the owners and operators of Sweeps & Ladders Chimney Service, Tommy and Beka Nelms have been providing chimney and dryer vent services to the Middle Tennessee area for over seven years. Since the early days of the business, Tommy has used his experience as a former Williamson County firefighter to keep area homes safe and has made it his mission to educate homeowners on how to prevent fires from happening in the first place. 

What is your firefighter experience?

“Combined with my previous experience with the Williamson County Rescue Squad and almost eleven years with the Franklin Fire Department, I have spent almost thirteen years in fire service before becoming a business owner. I started his career with the Franklin Fire Department at Station 3 in Cool Springs. I was then promoted to Engineer of Ladder 5.”

How did you transition from firefighter to business owner?

“I started the business part-time. We worked 24 hours on and 48 hours off duty. Two out of every three days, I was working side jobs. I cut grass, helped friends, and performed other odd jobs. I wanted to find something that I could incorporate my education in the fire service into a part-time job. We started this as basically a way to make some extra income for my family. To my surprise, the business grew and grew. People responded to our education-first approach and the demand grew.”

What was it like being a firefighter and a chimney sweep at the same time?

“I was working a lot. I left, and my wife and son were still asleep. I lived at the fire hall for 24 hours, and my family would come to visit me. We got so busy that when I got off duty the next morning, I went out and swept chimneys, and most days when I got home, my son was already asleep. I would wake up early and be gone again by the time he woke up. I was so busy that I rarely got to see my family.”

What finally inspired you to focus on Sweeps & Ladders full-time?

One day, my son asked me if I was working at the fire hall the next day. I told him that I was, and I will never forget his next words. He looked at me and said, ‘Daddy, can we come visit you where you live?’ That crushed my heart. I grew up without a father, and all I ever wanted was to be a good husband and father, and my son thought I lived somewhere else. From that day forward, I knew that something had to change. It was either scale back the business and stay at the fire department or jump in with both feet and leave a career that I loved. I weighed all the options and at the end of the day, I said goodbye to my career as a firefighter. I loved it, and I miss it to this day, but I had to do what was best for my family. I also did not want to live with the thought of ‘what if’ concerning Sweeps & Ladders.”

How did your family react to your career change?

“My whole family jumped in with both feet, and we took a chance. Our company has grown year after year, and we have an even bigger family now. I have the privilege of working with some of the finest people I have ever met.”

What fire prevention advice would you offer homeowners?

My wish for victims of fire is that they would’ve taken the time to educate themselves by learning what the common causes of structure fires are and what steps can be taken to avoid taking those risks. Every fire starts with one tiny spark and it can happen to anyone. Homeowners should have working smoke detectors in their home. All families should practice EDITH- Exit Drills In The Home. Make sure everyone knows to get out and have a safe meeting place like the mailbox. Make sure everyone knows how to dial 911. I know that sounds crazy, but it would surprise you how many people do not teach their kids these things. We must educate people on the safe operation of the fireplace and dryer vent. We must also educate them on what to do if a fire occurs.”

How does your firefighter experience influence your perspective as a business owner?

When I first started at the fire department we were sitting around the table talking about all of the big fires we had been in. At that time the Engineer of E3 spoke up. He had been in the fire service for over 25 years, and he told me something that I will never forget. He looked me dead in the eye and said, ‘In over 25 years, I have never seen a good fire. Every fire I have ever been to someone has lost something that they couldn’t replace. Your job as a firefighter is to prevent fires from ever happening–not just to put them out. If you spend the rest of your career and never go into another burning building, then you would be one of the most successful firefighters that ever put on the helmet.’ I had never thought about it like that before. That day, that conversation changed my perspective. I now spend time teaching people about how to prevent fires from ever happening, and that is the mentality that we have at Sweeps & Ladders.”

How does being a former firefighter help you and your company best serve your customers?

“It helps because we see things from a different perspective. I have seen what happens when appliances are not installed correctly or if a dryer vent is full of lint. I have been surrounded by fire in a house that was caused by not maintaining a chimney and dryer vents. All of our techs are taught about fire prevention and they learn about my experiences as a firefighter. We promote fire prevention through education. Because of my experience, our team understands what the stakes are why it is so important to be thorough.”

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