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Solar Panels Pose Challenges For Firefighters

DANBURY, Conn. (CBSNewYork) — The allure of solar energy is undeniable, as homeowners embrace a green power source that can save big money.

But as CBS 2’s Steve Langford reported, solar panels can also create an impediment for firefighters.

For instance,  in September, solar panels atop a food warehouse in southern New Jersey forced firefighters at certain points to retreat because of the threat of live electricity being generated by solar panels.

The equipment creates “electrocution hazards,” said Mark Omasta, a training officer with the Danbury Fire Department. “There’s about 600 volts flowing through those panels.”

There are other issues, too. Fire officials worry about the weight of the panels on roofs weakened by fire. Firefighters might also face difficulty cutting holes in a roof in order to let fire and heat escape. And if firefighters shine flood lights on solar panels at night, they would reactivate electrical currents.

“It offers a whole new set of challenges for firefighting crews,” Omasta said.

The Danbury Fire Department has completed an inventory of buildings with solar panels in order to know going in how to deal with the added risks.

Danbury homeowner Art Roberts, who recently had solar panels installed, said he’s aware of the risks for him and for firefighters.

“We’ll have to see what happens when that day comes,” he said. “Hopefully not.”

The Solar Energy Industries Association did not return calls seeking comment.

The National Fire Protection Association said it’s unaware of any residential injuries to firefighters because of solar panels.

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