Solar energy presenting new challenges for firefighters

207: Dangers of solar energy panels in emergency

SCARBOROUGH, Maine (NEWS CENTER) -- To be clear, we aren't saying solar energy is bad; but it can cause problems, even the the risk of shock if first responders aren't prepared.

See, firefighters can't just shut off the power to the sun, so they're learning how to work around it. 
 
For years businesses have been adding panels to their roofs; and while going green is a good thing, anything new always brings challenges. 
 
"Commercial systems can produce up to 1000 V, residential up to 300," said Ryan Ouellette, the Scarborough firefighter behind a recent training. 
 
"If you happen to get to the wrong part of the system, the potential is there for shock even electrocution."
 
Ouellette helped put together a class in different areas of the state, to train first responders on what to look for, and what to do when certain electrical systems show up on calls.
 
"Firefighters here are very progressive," said the instructor, Matt Paiss. "They want to be ahead of the curve and learn about how it's changing the buildings they are responding to."
 
Paiss is a former firefighter who now runs his own company called Energy Response Solutions.
 
"Depending on the fire department and what their tactics are, some of them like to go on the roof and cut holes if there's a fire, to let the hot gasses and smoke out. The presence of an array on the roof will make that more challenging; not necessarily being able to cover the fire the way you want to," said Paiss. 
 
"The other issue is there's an increased dead load, wait on the roof so it could cause the roof to fail earlier."
 
Solar arrays also come in different varieties; some have system shut offs on the roof, others have a shut off inside the building. Either way, those shut offs only cut power to the building. The panels are still producing energy whenever there's light; that includes flood lights firefighters use on scene. 
 
The rest of the training falls on the citizens and business owners, which is part of Code Enforcement officer James Butler's mission. 
 
"Best notification is to the town and the fire department when work is being done with the changes taking place," said Butler. "That's really important for us because we are in the business of responding to places to get people through EMS calls, or if there is a fire to put that fire out. So those permits trigger us to update in our system the background of, 'Okay, they installed a solar array on the roof, or they added on an expansion, or what they're doing to that building,' so we are prepared to respond."
 
If the town knows about a solar addition, even if its just one panel, information about working around it can be entered into the emergency response system. So even dispatchers get a notification when a call comes in - and can send along instructions with those responding to the call.
 
"We can see where the fire department connection is and where the alarm panel is," said Butler.
 
The message here, is not that solar is bad.
 
"We believe in solar, obviously," said Ouellette. "It's on our fire station."
 
But, it is a new obstacle to overcome and as it increases in popularity, those on the front lines have a little more studying to do.
 

 

© 2017 WCSH-TV


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