Firefighters say that rooftop solar panels can cause roofs to collapse faster during fires and even stop some firefighting techniques from being used, according to a report published Thursday.
This risk of roof collapse forces firefighters to go on “defense” outside of burning buildings, rather than attacking the fire from inside. Firefighters also worry that solar panels can prevent first responders from vertically ventilating a fire, potentially making it much harder to put out.
“Normally, under ten minutes of heavy fire conditions, a roof structure usually collapses,” Lt. Paul McAllister, a firefighter at the West Warwick Fire Department, told investigators from a Rhode Island local news channel. “This is probably going to be a little bit sooner now if we have solar panels on the roof.”
Solar panels also present firefighters with a huge potential risk of electrocution. “If we were to throw a ladder to the roof and the ladder would puncture the solar panels that could cause an electrocution to the members who were putting the ladders on the roof,” McAllister continued.
Legally, solar panels are required to have clearly marked shut-offs to prevent such electrocutions, but those could be difficult to find in an emergency situation.
Rooftop solar panels are already fairly dangerous and cause an estimated 440 deaths per trillion kilowatt-hour, according to a study by Forbes. To put that in some perspective, nuclear power killed only 90 per trillion kilowatt-hour, including the Chernobyl and Fukushima disasters. The number of deaths from rooftop solar will likely grow too, as the Department of Energy projects that 1 million American homes will have a solar panel of the roof by 2020.
The Solar Energy Industries Association responded to the news channel’s concerns about firefighter safety by saying “many building codes now include provisions intended to address firefighter safety, such as minimum setback areas to provide space on the roof for walking around solar products.”
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