Steeplejack dies in fall from roof

By on June 16, 2016
Diirner poses for a photo while doing repairs earlier this year at the  Clock Towers condos in Lancaster

Below, Diirner poses for a photo while doing repairs earlier this year at the Clock Towers condos in Lancaster.

A third-generation steeplejack from Akron died after falling from the roof of an Allentown church June 9.

Charles M. “Chuck” Diirner, 43, 213 Manor Ridge Drive, was pronounced dead at Lehigh Valley Hospital-Cedar Crest about 40 minutes after the fall, according to a press release issued by the Lehigh County coroner’s office. His death was ruled an accident.

Diirner had been working on the roof of the Cathedral Church of St. Catharine of Siena when he fell about 30 feet just after 5:30 p.m., according to The Morning Call newspaper in Allentown.

Diirner owned CJ Diirner & Sons Roofing Inc., in Ephrata, with his brother, Jacob.

Jacob Diirner said his brother worked as a roofer for over 23 years. He was safe, cautious and “always looking out for the other guy.”

“I’m going to do anything I can to carry on his legacy,” Jacob Diirner said.

Diirner’s legacy

Chuck and Jacob Diirner did things the old-fashioned way.

Even as supersized hydraulic lifts and elaborate scaffolding made the job of steeple repair easier, the brothers took pride in being traditional steeplejacks.

“When you’re a true steeplejack, you can get to a job using ropes and ladders. No lifts and no scaffolding,” said Jacob Diirner, who owned the five-employee company with his brother. “Essentially you’re swinging off that steeple like a giant tetherball,” he said.

Through their Ephrata company, C.J. Diirner & Sons Roofing, the brothers have had a hand in preserving church steeples, belfries and even the statue on top of the county courthouse.

That work on some of the highest points in Lancaster County will be part of Chuck Diirner’s legacy following his accident.

Jacob said it’s hard to understand how the accident could have happened since his brother was a stickler for safety.

“Everybody is so shocked. This is like a nightmare we can’t wake up from,” said Jacob, who was acting as a spokesman for the family.

Authorities have said the death was accidental and the incident is being investigated by the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration.

Matt Kerr, director of communications for the diocese of Allentown, offered prayers for the Diirners.

“The cathedral family and the diocese are offering our condolences and prayers for the family of the man who died in this tragic accident,” Kerr said.

A family tradition

Jacob, who is a year and a half younger than Chuck, recalled that the two of them worked together as roofers for more than two decades, following in the footsteps of their father Charles, who spent years working for F.R. Behm & Sons in Lititz.

In 2005, the Diirners started their own company with their father, focusing on specialty roofing work for institutions. They took over operation of the firm after their father’s death in 2015.

The company has worked on some of the most recognizable churches in Lancaster County, including the steeple and bell tower of the Lititz Moravian Church.

“There’s not a day I don’t look up at the spire and wonder how those guys did it,” said Matt Good, sexton of the church who helped oversee the project in 2009.

“The bell spire, as we call it, is what it is today because of the dedication and attention to detail of Diirner & Sons,” Good said.

Good said he valued the company’s commitment to getting it right and referred them to others countless times.

The Lititz Moravian job involved coating the steeple and bell tower with a thin layer of aluminum which preserved its look while mitigating the need for regular painting.

That method became a specialty for the Diirners, offering churches a way to cut down on long-term maintenance costs while preserving the intricacy of the features.

For churches on tight budgets, the Diirners use of traditional methods also proved much less expensive than erecting scaffolding or renting a giant lift.

“Chuck and I just don’t believe in taking that money from the church. We continue to do things with ropes and chairs,” Jacob said.

Jacob said he plans to continue the company in a way that honors his brother.

“I’m going to do my best to carry on this company without him, the way he would want it done,” he said.

Diirner is survived by his wife, Jessica, and three children.

This story was compiled by LPN staff writers: Lindsey Blest, Ryan Robinson, Jennifer Todd, and Chad Umble.

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