Former firefighter turns passion into thriving business

Former firefighter turns passion into thriving business

By Heather Listhartke

Safety and family are the two prevailing ideas that Tommy Nelms founded his business, Sweeps & Ladders on. Sweeps & Ladders is a chimney sweep business, where all the technicians are licensed by the national fireplace institute to clean and repair fireplaces, as well as, continuously try to prevent fires from happening through regular maintenance.

The owner Tommy, while working as a firefighter for Franklin on a schedule of 24 hours on and 48 hours off, wanted to use his extra time to do something that complimented his experience of firefighting as well as bring in some extra money for his family which included a 6-month-old son at the time. While like most firefighters, he has tried a ton of side jobs from mowing lawns to doing handyman work, but it simply wasn’t helping people in the way that he wanted. He then thought of chimney sweeps, remembering an old fire engineer that he worked with. Tommy, describing the engineer as a guy who had been on the job a while and had seen a lot, said that the engineer told him, “Son, the longer you’re in the service, you’ll learn that your job isn’t to put the fire out, but to prevent them in the first place.”

From here, he sought out how to get into the business, found that he could be certified by the national fireplace institute, finished the training, and with his wife, he started the business. At first it was just them, but as the company continued to grow and add customers, he found that he was working all the time. One night while eating dinner, his son asked him, “Can I come visit you where you live?” He said that he knew he needed to either scale back the company or leave firefighting. In one of the hardest decisions he’s made, he turned in his resignation, knowing that if he didn’t pursue the opportunity to have an open schedule and how much he loved the business that he would always regret it.

The business has continued to grow with customers from young couples new to the area to elderly seniors, all who need help caring for their fireplaces. He serves all of Williamson County, as well as, northern Maury County, Southern Davidson County, and Rutherford County with his family of certified technicians. Tommy, talking about his crews, said that they are all first class making the business possible. As they continue to grow, they really have become a family, sharing in the company together and having fun, all while taking care of the business.

While he says all of his competitors in the industry are fantastic people who work well with them, he sets his business apart by bringing in his background of fighting fires and his knowledge about the area. He approaches the business with a mission to educate and provide safety knowledge to customers. With friends who still fight fires, doing his job wrong could mean that they have to go and risk their lives to fight fires. Tommy and his technicians, therefore, not only make sure they do the job right the first time, but also spend time talking with the customer about tips and steps to keep everything safe for the whole family.

If you have any questions, need advice, or need your fireplace checked, Tommy invites you to give him a call and use them as a resource. They’re there to answer any questions that you might have. Sweeps & Ladders, while doing work on fireplaces, also checks dryer vents. Both of these need annual cleaning and maintenance, so call to get a basic safety check up. Reach them as (615)-241-0341 or visit their website at

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