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Solar Panels Could Prevent Firefighters From Putting Out Flames

Feb 06, 2014 03:01 PM EST by Michael Thrasher

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Solar panels are helping people save energy but they could prevent firefighters from saving their homes.

Firefighters in California are warning homeowners that solar panels pose additional risks to firefighters that could affect their ability to put out a blaze, according to CBS Los Angeles.

L.A. County Fire Inspector Scott Miller told CBS that there have not been any known incidents of solar panels preventing firefighters from putting a fire out. However, interest in solar energy continues to grow in the Southwesr and has become more affordable. That, coupled with the record drought in California, has led firefighters to prepare to such a circumstance.

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Training to extinguish a fire where there is solar energy technology takes into consideration a number of factors.

Miller told CBS that the solar panels place additional weight onto roofs, making them more susceptible to collapse during a fire. He also said the panels themselves contain materials that firefighters would consider dangerous.

"When we have crews going inside and when we have crews going up on the roof we're running the risk of having a structural collapse," he told CBS. "We should have our face pieces on and also when they're exposed to fire they also release harmful chemicals into the atmosphere."

Another concern is the energy solar panels produce. Live panels can produce as much as 600 volts of electricity and switches are often separate from the fuse box to a home.

That isn't an exceptionally high voltage, but it's enough to severely harm or kill someone, given the right conditions.

"So it's really important for us not to touch any of the exposed wires because you're running the risk of getting electrocuted," Miller said. That can be an unknown hazard, especially at night, since they are on the roofs of homes.

Firefighters would like residences and other buildings to have some type of uniform signage to make them aware of the potential danger. Some solar panel installers recommend to homeowners that they place a diagram somewhere in their home but it is not required, according to CBS.

The Solar Energy Industries Association released this statement to CBS in part: "We're working diligently to better educate firefighters about how solar works."

The organization said employees are also "working to improve fire safety through the development of building codes and product standards."

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