WILMINGTON, NC (WECT) - Industry experts, county building inspectors and the State Fire Marshal’s Office are concerned that a man repairing chimneys in and around Wilmington is doing dangerous modifications, and putting people at risk. Ronnie Larocca posted dozens of videos of his repair work on social media, and the president of a nationwide chimney sweep organization says the work shown in those videos is so faulty, it’s dangerous.
The State Fire Marshal’s Office also has safety concerns about the materials Larocca says he’s using to make repairs.
“We have concerns about the use of this sealant. Using the flammable sealant does not comply with the building code. We are concerned that the use could be hazardous to occupants of the residences,” Barry Smith, a spokesperson for the Fire Marshal explained to WECT after we showed him pictures of the repairs Larocca had posted online.
Larocca is doing business in and around Wilmington as AAA Affordable Chimney. National Chimney Sweep Guild President Jasper Drengler said this situation goes beyond sloppy repair work.
“In our industry, it’s real common to find work that’s done and isn’t up to code and isn’t quite right, but [Larocca’s] work is putting the lives of people and their homes in danger from fire, carbon monoxide. He’s playing with people’s lives, he could potentially kill someone,” Drengler explained.
Drengler said Larocca is not associated with any chimney sweep trade organizations, and doesn’t have any credentials or certifications to do chimney repairs. Drengler said fellow chimney sweeps have tried to reach out to Larocca to counsel him and explain why the repairs he’s making are dangerous, but their warnings have gone unheeded.
“Instead of welcoming encouragement or welcoming critique, he’s lashed out, called names, made threats…very verbally abusive to many in the industry,” Drengler said. “There’s no way that we would give him any credentials to do anything."
WECT reached out to Larocca directly. After initially declining our request, he later agreed to an on-camera interview, and then failed to show up at the time and place we agreed to meet. When we initially contacted him, Larocca said jealous competitors were trying to take him down. He then sent dozens of text messages defending his work, and called people who had questioned him “clowns” and “retard Gilligan’s Island organizations.”
When we told Larocca industry leaders said he should not be using combustible rubberized sealants to coat entire chimneys, he said “rubberized compounds are not flammable.” When we sent him product specifications saying the product he told us he was using was in fact flammable, he said he’d been doing these repairs for decades and never had an accident. He did not specifically respond to concerns that his chimney modifications were sealing off the cooling mechanism, trapping heat and creating a fire hazard.
Larocca refused to tell us if he was insured or had a license to operate. The county requires anyone performing chimney sweeping activities in the unincorporated areas of the county to have a journeyman license, and they say Larocca is not on their list of license holders.
New Hanover County also says a permit is required to make chimney modifications anywhere in the county, incorporated or otherwise, and they have no records that Larocca ever pulled a permit to do work here. We spoke to one Wilmington customer who confirmed he made chimney modifications at her home, and we have seen numerous videos Larocca has posted where he is modifying chimneys and indicating he is working in Wilmington.
After sending out an inspector to view questionable repairs AAA Affordable Chimney had made at one Wilmington customer’s home, county building inspectors confirmed the modifications were unsafe.
“New chimney cap does not appear to be a listed product intended for use with this fireplace,” the inspection report read. “There is no information that approves this chimney top to be used on this Marco fireplace. Other major concern is that the outer jacket has been sealed and does not allow for proper airflow. This fireplace cap was installed by AAA affordable chimney supply of Leland North Carolina who is not licensed to perform work within this county. The fireplace is now in an unsafe condition and should not be used until the problem has been corrected.”
Code Compliance Supervisor Arthur Malpass told WECT that Larocca is not even authorized to fix the mistakes they say he made modifying the customer’s chimney.
“Being he is not licensed to do work in New Hanover County, he cannot secure a permit to correct the issues. A licensed chimney sweep will need to secure a permit to do the corrections,” Malpass explained. “I cannot issue a license to a person who has outstanding violations, so AAA Affordable Chimney cannot conduct business in New Hanover County legally.”
Malpass indicated his office would reach out to Larocca to let him know he is not in compliance with safety and licensing requirements. In unincorporated areas of New Hanover County, it is a misdemeanor to violate the county’s chimney sweep regulations.
Since some of the repairs Larocca had posted videos of involved multi-family town home units in Pender County, we also reached out to county officials there about the potential safety concerns that had been brought to our attention. County officials there said you don’t need a license to make small home repairs there, and they can only investigate if a homeowner files a formal complaint. No one has filed a complaint about Larocca there.
Drengler fears that many affected homeowners here might not know there is anything wrong with their chimney repair, until it is too late.
“Unfortunately, someone has to complain or get hurt or die before anyone takes action and that’s just a shame,” Drengler said. He suggested homeowners go to CSIA.org and type in their zip code to find a certified chimney sweep if they need chimney repairs.