Solar panel protections closer for NJ smoke eaters when the roof is on fire

YOU READ IT HERE FIRST: A long-awaited bill that establishes new protections for firefighters when they are working around roof-mounted solar panels is nearly law.

Photo Credit: Cliffview Pilot File Photo

The amended measure, which only needs a final OK from the state Assembly after Senate approval in Trenton yesterday, was amended from its original version to reflect regulation updates to the National Electrical Code and Uniform Construction Code that require external shutoff mechanisms.

It also calls for the creation of identifying emblems for buildings that have the systems or are served by them.

One- and two-family residential homes are exempted from having to post the emblem, and buildings that already have an emblem indicating a truss roof may combine the two into one.

The bill also requires that the specifications of the PV system be filed with the local fire department.  This allows firefighters to have quick access to the information they need regarding system shutoff locations, number of solar panels, etc.

With more than 9,000 solar energy locations, New Jersey is second in number only to California.

The proposed was launched in Trenton in 2011, then picked up momentum following a warehouse fire in Burlington County last year involving more than 7,000 solar panels that made the job extremely hazardous for firefighters.

“We may very well not be able to save buildings that have alternative energy,” William Kramer, New Jersey’s acting fire marshall, told the Star-Ledger after Delanco Fire Chief Ron Holt refused to send his firefighters onto the roof of the 300,000-square foot Dietz & Watson warehouse.

The greatest risk is the potential for electrocution. Even though the panels put out no more than 600 volts, that’s enough to cause shock and burns. And they can’t be shut off. Any kind of light, even a firefighter’s flashlight, will generate continuous electricity.

They also block routes that firefighters need to cut roof holes for ventilation and make for tricky footing.

Even more menacing is the possibility of a structural collapse under the weight of the panels — as well as the potential to inhale dangerous fumes when solar batteries are burning.

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