by BETTER FARMING STAFF
Huron County fire chiefs are working to come up with an approach to fires in buildings with solar panels on their roofs but until they do at least one chief isn’t sure how his volunteers might respond to such a fire.
Steve Cooke, part-time chief of the Central Huron fire department, says there are a number of dangers firefighters have to consider approaching a fire in a building with solar panels on the roof. He says he is not saying they won’t respond, but how they respond is up leaders on site. “It’s going to be an individual call,” Cooke says. “Having said that, if there’s a rescue, we’re gonna do it.”
A Bullet News Huron report earlier this week says Cooke raised the issue at a council meeting where an application to add a large solar array to a farm building was being considered. “There is a possibility that if a structure has a massive solar panel system on its roof, that we wouldn’t be fighting the fire,” the report quoted Cooke as saying. The report said he added: “We’re not spraying water on 600 volts, that’s all there is to it.”
In an interview with Better Farming, Cooke said he expects a meeting of Huron County fire chiefs this week will lead to the establishment of a committee to come up with standards for fighting fires where solar panels are involved. He said they will also be drafting standards for solar panel installation.
“We’re in the process of developing an operational guideline that we’re going to make universal across the county so we’re all operating on the same page so if we have to go to a mutual aid call with another fire department, we’re all operating the same way.” He says there are 15 volunteer fire departments covering all of Huron County.
“The bottom line on it right now, because we don’t know enough yet, is if it’s dangerous, it’s not worth anybody’s life,” he said.
Cooke said the only safe water stream they can use fighting solar panel fires is fog, which restricts reach. They are not allowed to use foam, either.
The chiefs drafting the guidelines, Cooke says, will be working with health and safety guidelines put out by the Ministry of Labour and the Ontario Fire Marshal’s Office. Ministry guidelines say fire departments should develop policies and operational guidelines to deal with solar-panel fires.
“The primary hazard for firefighters dealing with photovoltaic (PV) installations is electric shock,” the guidelines say. “An array of multiple panels can produce DC current and voltages above 600 volts. This represents a hazard for firefighters if they come in contact with damaged panels or energized exposed wiring during firefighting or ventilation operations.”
The ministry guideline says panels cannot simply be switched off. They will always remain energized as long as they are exposed to a source of light. “They should be treated as live electrical equipment,” the guidelines say. BF