Fire school offered training fighting fires around solar arrays

MONTPELIER — Rooftop solar photovoltaic (PV) systems present special considerations for firefighters. A workshop held recently at the Vermont Fire Academy in Pittsford provided fire safety instructors with information they can use to teach local firefighters across the state about how to deal with fires on buildings equipped with solar PV systems. The workshop was jointly hosted by the Clean Energy States Alliance, the Vermont Public Service Department, and the Vermont Fire Academy. 
Just like any new residential technology, solar PV offers unique challenges to firefighters. As rooftop PV becomes more common, firefighters need to be prepared for the challenges that this technology presents. Since PV panels can present electrical hazards for firefighters, de-energizing rooftop PV systems represents one such issue.
In the recent workshop, fire safety instructors learned how to recognize the difference between solar PV modules and solar thermal panels, how solar PV modules work, and how to handle them during a fire. Over the next several months, the newly trained instructors will deliver training on this topic to local fire departments across the state.
“With the huge boosts in rooftop PV deployment over the past few years, it’s important for firefighters to know how to recognize and treat PV systems in the event of a fire,” said Nate Hausman, a project manager for the Clean Energy States Alliance, one of the organizations that developed this workshop. “We’re glad to help bring these PV fire safety trainings to Vermont.”
“The information that will be shared will increase firefighter knowledge of solar equipment and outline safety measures when operating around solar installations,” said James Litevich, chief of training at the Vermont Fire Academy. “This knowledge will also aid the fire officer’s decision making process when directing fire suppression activities that involve structures with PV installations.”
“As solar becomes more integrated into our buildings and landscape, our department is committed to working with the Fire Academy and others to ensure the projects are constructed with fire safety in mind, and that the training necessary for public safety is made available,” said Christopher Recchia, commissioner of the Public Service Department.
The Vermont Fire Academy will begin offering PV fire training to firefighters across the state in the upcoming months, with financial support from the Public Service Department’s Clean Energy Development Fund.  Those courses will be announced and more information will be available on the Vermont Fire Academy website at www.firesafety.vermont.gov/academy.

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