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Bill to Protect Firefighters From Solar Panel Dangers Advances

Assemblyman Robert Schroeder sponsors bill requiring emblem on buildings where solar panels are attached to the roof to protect firefighters from electrocution.

With an increasing number of buildings investing in alternative energy, emergency responders are often unable to immediately identify structures that have installed solar panels on their roofs — putting them at risk of electrocution in the event of a fire. 

In an effort to protect firefighters against the danger of electrocution posed by solar panels, Assemblyman Robert Schroeder (R-Woodcliff Lake), a volunteer firefighter in the Township of Washington since 1980 who has twice served as fire chief, has sponsored a bill that would require buildings to clearly label with an exterior emblem whether they have solar panels.

The bipartisan bill was approved by the Assembly Homeland Security and State Preparedness Committee, on which Schroeder serves.

"New Jersey is one of the fastest-growing markets for solar energy and trails only California in terms of installations, but solar panels pose an unintended threat to firefighters," Schroeder said last week.

"Safe firefighting requires knowledge and awareness of the situation. This bill will let emergency responders know at a glance when there's a threat of electrocution because the building is actively harnessing power from the sun."

The safety measure was recommended in a National Fire Protection Association report focusing on structural firefighting in buildings that utilize solar panels to generate thermal and/or electrical energy.

According to the report, buildings with solar power systems "can present a variety of significant hazards" for firefighters.  

In addition, the bill requires that all existing and newly constructed buildings with solar panels be equipped with an external shut-off switch. 

"We can have clean reliable energy without making fires any more dangerous than they already are," said Schroeder.

"As a firefighter, I understand the value of knowing immediately what potential dangers await in a burning building I might have to enter."

"Simply putting a warning sign on the outside of a building could very well save the life of one of our brave first responders," Schroeder said. 

Ulises March 14, 2012 at 05:53 PM
es, it's only a name (my dad was a fan of the Oddessey). Let's keep the discussion on the article's topic which I feel is a step in the right direction. Mr. DelVecchio made some valid points on why this is a good thing.
Lurky Loo March 14, 2012 at 06:09 PM
I comprehend just fine. I would rather see our VOLUNTEER firemen safe when answering a call so if you just can't stand a law requiring a simple sticker, well then heres a simple enough answer for you Bruce. Don't get solar panels and you won't have to get a sticker! So glad thats settled! Moving on...
still in town 78 March 14, 2012 at 06:51 PM
If the new law requires1000$ to purchase the sticker/placard. Thats crazy I you should be able to purchase through a hardware store the installation company, whatever. It should not be a money maker it is a safety issue. P.s. the new tot finder stickers go on the inside door not on the outside thats why you don't see as many.
Lurky Loo March 14, 2012 at 09:02 PM
I couldn't find one article that said these stickers would cost $1000. Could someone please post a link to that info??
still in town 78 March 14, 2012 at 09:16 PM
I couldn't either?
bill kenney March 14, 2012 at 09:57 PM
better hope your family doesn't have an emergency requiring fire or ems! You'd eat those words for the rest of your life if a member of your family died as a result of the blue lighters not getting there in time to save them. Do you have a life??? I have 2/3+ of my life,professional and volunteer fire service. Shame on you!!
Bruce Knuckle March 14, 2012 at 10:12 PM
LurkyLoo, I'm not the one all scared of solar panels, nor am I the one trying the scare tactics to improve revenue.
Maurice Marvi March 15, 2012 at 01:28 PM
Most Fire Fighters are trained specifically on how to handle electrical hazards, whether they are from Utility power or or something self generated. If a fire is big enough that will require a hose line that may lead to some kind of electrocution hazard along the water stream, fire departments do a "Size Up" on site before entering to make sure that the roof structure is not compromised. That will also bring to their attention any solar installations on the roof. If it is a large industrial complex with a flat roof and Parapets, this may not happen. However, for these structures, the local FD will hopefully have already performed a “Pre-Plan” as typically recommended by corporate Risk Management, or their insurance companies. Of course, at night, smaller residential installations may be missed in the hectic first minutes of a response, but then, at night, these systems do not generate any electrical power. Now, after the October Snowstorm, we have many neighbors who have had automatic fuel fired emergency generators installed. We probably also have neighbors who may also have significantly sized battery backup systems in place. Both of these create significant hazards for our responding firemen. Especially the potential energy hazards in stored fuel, and charged batteries.
Maurice Marvi March 15, 2012 at 01:28 PM
How do we handle it? A sticker seems useless. Of the firemen I have met, None of them care about the Totfinder. Upon responding They will search an entire residence. This include closets and under beads, favorite hiding places of scared children. Even the MVC stopped using stickers for vehicle registration. One common point is that any of these installations will have required an inspection and permit by the building department. We can best equip our firefighters by giving them ready access to building department information. This can either be a portable database of the building department files available on the responding vehicles, or a fixed version at the dispatch that can be used to inform or alert the responders of the out of the ordinary hazards in any building.
Maurice Marvi March 15, 2012 at 01:39 PM
Your Native American Minnesotan may be right about ugly, but is mistaken that wind turbines kill birds in great numbers. During a tour of the wind generating facility outside of Atlantic City, I was shown data about bird deaths at the site for the preceding years. Of the bird carcasses found on the site, none showed signs of trauma that would indicate a rotor strike. While the study was done by the owners of the facility, who may have a conflict of interest, it had been vetted by an independent third party. If you want to see bird destruction, walk around the base of a tall building just after sunrise. I believe that the Port Authority had a dedicated bird carcass cleanup crew do the rounds each morning.of the WTC towers.
Rob Burke March 15, 2012 at 02:25 PM
Maurice - I am aware of the death of one bird in AC - tragically, it was an osprey. However, don't fool yourself into thinking that coal, nat gas & nukes haven't killed birds, humans and had other negative consequences.
Robert Steelman March 15, 2012 at 02:28 PM
Please check your calendars, spring forward to 2012. Revenue generating safety signage on buildings as a first line of defense is outdated. Commercial buildings are complex and solar is one more issue to address. The solution should reflect available technology to capture relevant information and make it available for crisis and non-crisis use. Ancient bureaucratic thinking is only good for burning more tax dollars and keeping low-wattage paper pushers on the payroll.
Maurice Marvi March 15, 2012 at 04:52 PM
Mr Burke Anything we do has consequences,. However, to quote W. L. Watkinson: "It is better to light a single candle than to curse the darkness" The funny thing, is I was first introduced to that quote by Charles Schultz in Peanuts.
Rob Burke March 15, 2012 at 05:38 PM
You're absolutely right, Maurice. Its quite ease for folks to attack some form of energy without considering that they must get their energy from some source(s) -- and there is no energy source that doesn't have consequences that we'd all rather do without. In my view, our energy future must combine a wide variety of resources to meet our needs in a balanced way. There will be a place for coal and for natural gas as there will be a place for nuclear, solar, wind, hydro and geothermal. None of these though will be so abundant or so uniquely positive & without drawbacks such that it can meet our needs all by itself. The answer will be 'all of the above.'
SP_Citizen March 15, 2012 at 11:06 PM
Adolpho - I'm curious... just what exactly do you have against these so called "blue lighters"? Are you really trying to say that they as volunteer EMT's and Firemen are completely useless? I'm sure that if you or someone you care for needed EMS or the Fire Dept. to come to your aid you would just love the idea of them having a system(Blue Lights) that gets people out of their way so that they can answer an EMERGENCY call faster.
Don March 17, 2012 at 01:41 AM
It all depends on how many panels are wired in series. They can be wired either series or parallel. A typical PV system is wired to put out only 12-15 volts - but many can deliver a large amount of current in amps at full load which can heat up a wire to become very hot very quickly if its shorted. but 15 volts is not enough to shock someone seriously - unless they are also covered with salty water.. not fresh water. However, when PV panels are in series, then voltages do get much higher. Putting them in series reduces transmission losses in a given size of wire. Also when they are not charging something the voltage can and does get higher also. " I = \frac{V}{R} where I is the current through the conductor in units of amperes, V is the potential difference measured across the conductor in units of volts, and R is the resistance of the conductor in units of ohms. The R in this relation is constant, independent of the current." Some kinds of R increase as current increases, like the filament in a light bulb - or a shorted wire, as it heats up.
Jeffrey DelVecchio March 17, 2012 at 02:00 AM
I have to disagree with you here. Grid tied PV systems, the most common, are wired in series and output over 400 Volts DC. Battery backup off grid systems are wired at 48 Volts. One of my panels alone puts out over 50 Volts and over 200 Watts.
Don March 17, 2012 at 02:10 AM
There is a very useful but totally underutilized form of geothermal available to everybody that could save most of us a lot of money. Its also quite simple. Its done by simply burying a long length of PVC piping a few feet underground, (some just serve to cool or warm air, others contain water..or antifreeze..) The buried pipes tap the "energy of the earth"energy we rarely think much about.. They can serve as a pre-warmer or pre-cooler for fresh air coming into a home (where it can be used as part of a passive house setup.) or they can be part of a heat exchanger.. The average temperature around five feet underground is constant that varies very little year round. (Thats why cave homes often make a lot of sense in some climates) So in the winter it saves on heating and in the summer it saves on cooling. All you need to do is heat your house the very few degrees above the year round average in the winter and cool it just a little more than the ground already cools it in the summer.. Very low tech high tech that works.
Don March 17, 2012 at 03:06 AM
Jeffrey, I don't think that what I said contradicts that as much as our ideas of typical is different. PV systems have also gotten larger. You have a large system with lots of panels wired in *series*. Some folks with these huge panel setups can run stuff like a freezer or a washer dryer or maybe even your entire house off of it. (BTW, thats definitely a good way to go.) But since individual silicon PV wafers only put out a fraction of a volt, its all in how they are wired. Often they are wired in combinations of series and parallel.
Don March 17, 2012 at 03:17 AM
The unfortunate fact of the recent subsidies for "green jobs" is that thanks to WTO regulations against discrimination - most of that grant money created jobs in other countries, where the innovation these days is happening, unfortunately. If we want things like grants to American businesses so we can catch up to be WTO-legal, we need to pull out or renegotiate these so called "free trade agreements" which would (if it wasn't impossible, because nation-state politicians simply do not have the power to do that, these treaties supersede national laws) seem hypocritical because American companies are the ones who wrote them- and used them to break into profitable emergent markets decades ago.) For the same reason, basically, all the advances we need in health care and soon, education will be WTO-illegal. Its called the "ratchet effect" ratcheting in privatization. We need more engineers, even if its not as porofitable as law or medicine now, it is smart. Law and medicine are the next frontier of globalization. "Seeing" a doctor in India or a lawyer in China via telepresence tools will be routine in a decade, Google "GATS".
Dan C March 17, 2012 at 05:13 AM
Actually, those "little placards" identifying truss floors and roofs, and if this bill passes, solar panels, are exactly what we (firefighters) look for as we approach a building. They identify SPECIFIC risks that a specific building poses that are not found on the majority of buildings. Solar panels are often only on one side of a building, and as such, may not be visible to firefighters as we come on scene. A sign that costs maybe $10 dollars could save a firefighters life... Don't you think that it worth the money?
Dan C March 17, 2012 at 05:19 AM
Hey Chris, You do realize that in our town, there has not been an incident of a volunteer causing an accident since the 80's, right? And do you want to pay more taxes for a paid fire company? If you do, I will be the first to sign up to be a paid firefighter in Basking Ridge. We volunteer our time to save your life and the lives of your family, friends and neighbors... Maybe a little respect is in order...
Dan C March 17, 2012 at 05:32 AM
Wow, some of these posts make me sick... As a volunteer I though we had the support of the community... I am sickened by the comments made by some of the people here. You are the same people that call us when the S*** hits the fan, but when we ask for something as simple as a placard or a sticker, it is too much to ask... How about asking us to get up and leave our families (without ANY pay) with the possibility of never returning, just to help a total stranger that may not even care if we die... Sure glad there are at least some people defending the heroes in this town...
Jeffrey DelVecchio March 17, 2012 at 01:32 PM
These large whole house systems such as mine are what the law is aimed at. I also have a small system in my backyard that only puts out 24 Volts. That system is not a hazard, the system on my roof is. Firefighters are taught to shut off utilities during a fire. That usually entails shutting off the main breaker and gas valve. At my house they should also turn off the PV system at the inverters. Even after that is done, the wires from the panels to the inverters will still be live if the sun is shining.
Ken March 17, 2012 at 01:51 PM
Good lord, y'all are seriously arguing AGAINST such a common-sense provision? First of all, the obvious place for the sticker would be near the external meter, where the electrical service enters the house: it's extremely likely that the source of the fire the FD would be responding to would be somewhere else, like your kitchen, and not at the panel itself; the sticker isn't going to burn, because the piece of metal isn't going to be on fire or close to fire. As dozens of people have noted, slanted roofs have two sides, and you can't see what's on top of the back side from the front; you also can't see what's on top of the front one if you're too close to it. It's extremely difficult for me to believe that among the relatively few people with solar panels on their roofs, there would be several of them in a Patch thread, arguing on and on about everything that's wrong with this simple protective idea -- or that anyone with such an inherent firefighting hazard on their property would be opposed to such a warning. Some of you should be ashamed.
WTFF38 March 20, 2012 at 10:58 PM
As a volunteer firefighter for Washington Township I am disgusted at what I am reading. The fact that people are complaining about a sticker to warn firefighters that the house is equipped with solar panels is crazy. Ever been on a roof with fire and smoke? You can't see much as it is, so how are we going to see a panel that is designed to blend in with the existing roof so it looks "pretty". I'd like to pull up to a fire and see the sign before I step off the truck. Also disconnecting the power from the box does not ensure the panels have no power. The only way to completely turn the panels off is to put a special tarp to keep sun light out. In addition the issue with the blue lights is off topic and is irrelevant. As volunteers we have to travel across town to get to the fire stations, we don’t live there. They should not exceed the speed limit ever but every second counts including drivers pulling to the side of the road letting us pass. I'll leave you with a final thought, it is an unpaid profession. We leave our family during dinner, work or school all to keep our neighbors safe. Next time you see us pass by remember we could be going to your house.
Chris Hansen April 18, 2012 at 09:14 PM
WTFF38 You make some interesting, thoughtful points. There may be a story here.
zizi September 06, 2012 at 04:52 PM
We don't have such problems in Teaneck...... We pay our firefighters and police personal.
Tom Tom, the piper's son September 06, 2012 at 08:32 PM
Zizi, you should pay your grammar instructors better.
kikidistiles March 25, 2013 at 02:58 PM
Thanks for sharing, I really should talk to my pastor about getting <a href="http://www.islandwidesolar.com/residential.php">solar panels in Honolulu</a> for out church. It may save him lots of money.

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