Abundance of solar panels, safety risks prompts push for registration in Philly

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Solar panels are good for the environment and good for a homeowner’s energy bill. But Philadelphia City Council is worried they could also pose a danger to firefighters.

Ken Willette of the National Fire Protection Association confirmed those worries.

“They take up rooftop space where the firefighters may need to operate above the fire. The second challenge, of course, is the panels generate electricity any time there’s ambient light,” Willette said during a hearing Monday before City Council. “So the firefighters are always concerned about how do we isolate those power supplies.”

Councilwoman Blondell Reynolds Brown has introduced a Solar Panel Safety bill that would require all new solar panel roof installations to be registered with the Philadelphia Fire Department.

Mark Bortman, the owner of Exact Solar, a company that installs panels across the Philadelphia area, supports the idea and said he already has to obtain permits when installing panels.

“I think the additional step of notifying the fire department is a natural step to take,” Bortman said. “First responders should be aware of any potential hazards that they could be getting into.”

A 2010 National Fire Protection Association report, which said solar panels presented a variety of hazards when a building is burning, recommended that firefighters be made aware of the devices and trained on how to handle them.

City firefighters need more training on how to deal with solar panels, said Joseph Schulle, president of the Philadelphia firefighters union.

As solar panels become more and more popular, he said he’s becoming increasingly concerned about safety.

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