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Responding To Photovoltaic Emergencies

Solar Photovoltaic Systems & Firefighter Safety
(video provided courtesy of the San Jose FD, California)

Fire Engineer Matt Paiss of the San Jose FD, Calif. explains how to recognize and safely operate around fireground solar photovoltaic systems.

With a variety of alternative electrical generation systems available, none is becoming more prevalent than those which convert solar energy to electricity. These systems are known as photovoltaic systems, or simply PV. A photovoltaic system consists of photovoltaic solar panels and other electrical components used to capture solar energy and convert it to electrical power. Many systems are roof mounted and may present hazards to firefighting operations. Firefighters can be sure that at some point in the future they will encounter an incident involving a building with a solar electric generating system.

California Fire - Office Of State Fire Marshal has provided coursework for how firefighters can better understand and respond to these incidents. Download Course Information.

Referenced in this coursework is the Final Report from a DHS/Assistance to Firefighter Grants (AFG) Funded Study by Casey C. Grant titled "Fire Fighter Safety and Emergency Response for Solar Power Systems." Download Report.

UL has conducted a project that gathered empirical data on specific hazards to address some specific concerns from the fire service community. They have produced an on-line awareness course that answers such questions as:

  • what is the magnitude of the shock hazard with applying water on PV systems?
  • at what distance can a hose line be deployed?
  • what is the potential hazard associated with power generation from light sources other than the sun?
  • how effective are tarps in depowering a PV array?
  • how effective are standard firefighting PPE in preventing electrical shock?
  • what is the potential shock hazard of PV arrays / components that have been subjected to a fire?
  • what are potential shock hazards if a PV panel is breached or interconnect wiring is severed?
  • how can a PV array be disconnected?

This on-line material can be viewed at:

More Good Information:

This brochure from Duke Energy is designed for fire personnel responding to a fire where rooftop- and ground-mounted solar photovoltaic (PV) systems have been installed.

Another good brochure for review from Duke Energy is called Substation Safety.