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Video: Crews work rooftop fire involving massive section of solar panels

Training tips for the unique hazards associated with rooftop blazes

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As technology advances along with the move toward more environmentally focused energy production, the fire service finds itself facing a new type of fire threat.

Many building owners are covering their roofs with solar panels. This move is financially appealing to an owner of a building or business, but it does come with some inherent risks for the fire service. Note: These fires are not limited to commercial buildings, as more and more residential buildings are going solar.

The one main risk is the extra weight of the solar panels on the roof. If it is a new building being constructed, this will be factored into the support systems, but it will still produce a heavy load on the roof. In existing construction, the solar panels are added with the understanding that the roof will support them using the current support system.

Another risk is when the solar panels catch on fire or there is a roof fire from some other source. Our corresponding video shows one such fire where there is a large roof area populated with solar panels, many on fire.

The hazard associated with this fire is going to be the live/stored energy of the panels. The fire is essentially a large electrical fire, which will require shutting down or isolating the power supply as well as the power generation of the panels. This might require finding a person on site who will be familiar with these systems to assist with their control systems. The main utility company will not have any control over these systems, as they are private and feeding their electrical grid.

Getting access to the area will also be a challenge. In the video, we see just how large a roof area is involved. The number of panels assembled and stacked together will surely prevent close access and will require some aerial operations using aerial devices or ground monitors on the roof. Couple that with the amount of water needed to extinguish the fire, and we are adding more weight to the roof.

[Related news: Solar panels sparked fire at Md. Amazon warehouse]

Simple tips

  • Expect solar panels: Almost every building these days is being outfitted with solar panels. While we can’t always see them because of the elevation of the roof, rest assured, they are going to be there.
  • Always wear your SCBA at these calls: The toxic smoke being produced is going to be laced with the products used to construct the panels – not friendly to your health.

Training time

After watching this video and reading this story with your company, take the following steps to bolster your training efforts:

  • Contact the Prevention/Inspections division of your department to learn how many buildings in your response area have solar panels on the roof.
  • Contact someone from a solar panel company to learn more about the panels themselves, safety guidelines and any other factors that might impact firefighters.
  • Take a tour of a company that has these on their building roof to learn their procedures for shutting down/isolating/stopping the production of energy from the panels.
  • Use the following additional resources – articles and a webinar – as part of an upcoming team training exercise.


Read more:

6 steps to safe, effective solar panel, ESS fire attack

How to maintain firefighter safety while mitigating an incident involving solar panels or energy storage systems

Additional resources

Mark van der Feyst has been in the fire service since 1998, currently serving as a firefighter with the Fort Gratiot Fire Department in Michigan. He is an international instructor teaching in Canada, the United States and India. He graduated from Seneca College of Applied and Technologies as a fire protection engineering technologist, and received his bachelor’s degree in fire and life safety studies from the Justice Institute of British Columbia and his master’s degree in safety, security and emergency management from Eastern Kentucky University. van der Feyst is the lead author of the book “Residential Fire Rescue” and “The Tactical Firefighter.” Connect with van der Feyst via email.