Solar Power Safety Training for Firefighters Coming to Wisconsin

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Firefighters already have a dangerous job, and rooftop solar energy systems can complicate that job during an emergency. Fortunately, critical safety training is available for fire departments, many who have already started encountering solar power systems frequently due to their rapidly increasing popularity in urban and suburban settings.

"Nobody - firefighters, homeowners, solar installers - ever wants to see a solar-powered home abandoned to flames because the fire was deemed too dangerous to fight."

A new class to be offered by The Midwest Renewable Energy Association and Buckville Energy Consulting in Custer, Wisconsin on Saturday, May 7, 2011, aims to educate firefighters about renewable energy systems, and teach renewable energy professionals how to design firefighter-friendly power systems and start safety outreach programs with their own local fire departments.

The growing popularity of rooftop solar arrays installed to offset utility bills and provide backup power during blackouts means that firefighters are encountering these systems far more frequently during emergency responses. While solar energy systems are not inherently dangerous, it is crucial that firefighters understand how they work and what safety procedures to use around them to avoid injury.

Back in the day, renewable energy systems were usually found only far off the electric grid at remote cabins, jobsites and homes—and those systems were wired to provide relatively benign 12 volt DC power. Today's grid-tie solar systems typically operate at 250 to 600 volts DC, enough to kill or seriously injure firefighters, or knock them right off a ladder or roof. And, a solar array can be live anytime the sun is shining, even if power to the structure has been shut off.

Fortunately, the firefighting community and solar energy industry have been collaborating since 2008 to coordinate firefighter safety training in renewable energy systems. The California State Fire Marshall's Office, the Solar Energy Industries Association, Underwriter's Laboratories, the Solar America Board for Codes and Standards, and the National Fire Protection Association have been leaders in developing these new training materials, standards and codes.

“It's critical to educate firefighters and their commanders about how to work safely around renewable energy equipment during an emergency response,” said Dan Fink, Lead Instructor for the class. “But it's also critical for renewable energy professionals to understand firefighting procedures and safety concerns, and install systems designed with firefighter safety in mind. Even something so simple as a system diagram posted on an exterior wall that shows firefighters how to turn everything off can add a big margin of safety for emergency responders. Nobody - firefighters, homeowners, solar installers - ever wants to see a solar-powered home abandoned to flames because the fire was deemed too dangerous to fight."

This new class will combine firefighters and renewable energy pros in one classroom, to better start a dialogue of questions and concerns between them on all the involved topics, Mr. Fink said. Local fire safety and code compliance officials are also encouraged to attend. The schedule includes an introduction to firefighting operations, introduction to renewable energy systems, suggested firefighter safety guidelines, an overview of upcoming National Electrical Code revisions intended to protect firefighters, question and answer sessions, and finally a tour of the large variety of renewable energy systems at the MREA campus.

The course is accredited by the North American Board of Certified Energy Practitioners (NABCEP) and the Interstate Renewable Energy Council (IREC) in the US and Canada, and by the Institute for Sustainable Power Quality internationally. Students who successfully complete the class are eligible for 6 Continuing Education credit hours for these organizations.

It runs from 9 AM to 5 PM on Saturday, May 7, at the MREA campus at 7558 Deer Road, Custer, Wisconsin. Registration fees are $90 for MREA members and $110 for non-members. Online registration is available at:
or call 715-592-6595.

Discounted rates are available for fire department personnel, for both the entire day and also just the critical 10 AM to 12 PM session on suggested response procedures ($90 per fire department for all day, $30 per fire department for the 2-hour critical session). Fire department registration is available only by phone; call Greta at the MREA at 715-592-6595 Ext 112.


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