There are four Constitutional Amendments on the General Election ballot, and two specifically affect firefighters.
The 3rd Amendment is simple enough – authorizing relief from ad valorem taxes assessed on homestead property for totally and permanently disabled first responders. The 1st Amendment deals with solar panels.
The IAFF has reached out to the FPF to join forces to protect our brothers and sisters by supporting the Constitutional Amendment to Article X, Section 29, titled Rights of Electricity Consumers Regarding Solar Energy Choice. There are powerful groups in Washington, DC and Florida that desire reasonable regulations and will be extremely grateful for our endorsement of the amendment. The growing solar energy industry is creating new hazards for firefighters prompting the fire service and the solar industry to develop new safety measures. Currently, property owners are adding multiple solar panels to residential and commercial structures that create the potential for electrocution and increased fire hazard, absent any regulation from the local government.
As you know, solar panels cannot be unplugged and moved out of the way, electricity can be shut off at the ground level, but the panels will continue to produce electricity as long as the sun is out. The installation of any solar energy system should have clearly marked shut-offs with an engineer evaluating the structural integrity of the building before any solar panels are installed.
The solar industry officials acknowledge the concerns and say they’re involved in research to limit the potential danger firefighters and other first responders face from live solar panels. The power industry has reached out to the FPF and the IAFF for assistance to insure local government has the ability to create reasonable regulation to protect firefighters and the general public.
I have attached some talking points and reference material for solar panels and fire safety. Your affirmative vote to support Amendment 1 and Amendment 3 would be greatly appreciated.
Solar Panels & Fire Safety
Protecting Health, Safety & Welfare of Consumers and First Responders
Solar panels are lauded for being environmentally friendly, but often overlooked are the potential hazards they can cause, especially as it relates to fires. Solar panels are both a fire hazard and a safety hazard to firefighters trying to put a fire out.
The National Fire Protection Association and Underwriter Laboratories have both studied1,2 the fire hazards solar panels create, finding that:
- Panels on a home can cause electrical shock to firefighters that come in contact with the panels on a roof, potentially transmitting enough voltage to cause death;
- placement of panels on a roof can be a hindrance to the ability of firefighters to access a roof or vent a roof of a home that is on fire;
- the added weight of panels on a roof increases the likelihood of roof collapse on a building on fire;
- and, solar panels can release harmful chemicals when exposed to fire that could pose an additional hazard to first responders and building occupants.
All of these issues make it more difficult for firefighters to fight a fire, often prohibiting them from safely entering a building or being able to fight the fire from above. Earlier this year and in response to firefighter safety concerns, New York state passed regulations requiring setbacks for solar panels that guarantee roof access and roof venting ability.3 California adopted safety codes with mandatory roof setbacks for all solar installations in 2014.4 Solar panels have also been cited numerous times as the cause of fires. Within about one month’s time last year, news reports had credited solar panels for fires at a dentist’s office in New York,5 an Apple facility in Arizona,6 and the Hove Town Hall building in the United Kingdom.7 In 2013, a California solar community reported multiple fires with panels, to the point that homeowners stopped turning their systems on for fear of the fire hazard.8
The increased growth and availability of solar energy is exciting, however, the risks of this new technology cannot be ignored. It is essential that there is oversight and coordination, whether it be at the state, county or city level, to ensure that potential fire hazards are understood and avoided, and that first responders are knowledgeable and aware of the increased risks of fighting fires involving solar panels.