Hidden dangers of solar panels

SPRINGFIELD, Mass. (WWLP) – Lots of people have installed solar panels into their homes and businesses in an effort to help the environment and save some money, but the 22News I-Team has discovered solar panels could be dangerous in an emergency.

More and more families and businesses in western Mass. are using the sun to go green, installing solar panels to generate power, but as these become more common in western Mass., fire departments are faced with new challenges.

“There certainly have been examples with power being backfed into the site that have killed firefighters in adjacent states,” said Northampton Fire Chief Brian Duggan.

The solar panels, while a growing trend, have proven to be problematic in an emergency. An NBC television station in Philadephia captured this video of a distribution center covered in solar panels. The firefighters in this case were forced to stop fighting the fire due to electrocution concerns on a bright sunny day.

Northampton Fire Chief Brian Duggan told the I-Team electrocution is not their only concern, cutting through the roof for ventilation would also take a lot longer.

“As an example in Easthampton there was a ventilation hole cut in a roof, it took about 25 minutes to do it, this would elongate that time by approximately double,” he said.

It’s a situation both Northampton and Springfield fire departments have been faced with. Gregory Garrison, the President of Northeast Solar agreed to talk to the I-Team about the issue. He says firefighters just have to pull the meter when they get there. That allows them to cut the power.

He disagrees they pose a risk. “The only issue that remains for them is maybe ventilating the roof and finding the convenient way to ventilate the roof.   Technology is continuing to advance to provide those solutions for us, but for right now, from an electrical standpoint, they pose no issues,” Garrison said.

Springfield fire commissioner Joe Conant says even when power is cut, they have to assume electricity is still generating, especially on a sunny day. He says nothing will stop them if there’s a life to be saved, but if it’s simply to save the structure, solar panels may keep them from going on the roof.

“Our number one concern is always safety for firefighters. We won’t put them in a dangerous situation unless it’s a life-threatening situation for somebody else,” Conant said.

Even with the risks associated, Chief Duggan says he has solar on his own home and doesn’t think twice. “Certainly the benefits of solar far outweigh those things that cause fire departments or other issues to utilities but there are factors we need to consider.”

Chief Duggan says they’ve already starting training their department on handling solar. Springfield’s Chief says they’ll be incorporating it in soon.

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