Talk about unintended consequences. A company installs solar roof panels to save energy costs, Then when there is a fire, the building burns down because the solar panels impeded firefighters.
Delanco, New Jersey, volunteer fire crews rushed to the burning meat warehouse on Sunday and discovered the roof was covered in solar panels, forcing firefighters to change tactics. It took 29 hours to put out the flames at the Dietz & Watson warehouse, which was left gutted and smoldering in ruins.
"Do I think we'd have had a different outcome if we could get on the roof? Sure," Delanco Deputy Fire Chief Robert Hubler said.
Why are the panels a problem? The kill switch on a solar panel installation will keep power from going into a building's electrical system but as long as light is present the solar panels and wiring remain energized. Studies have shown the lights on the fire fighting equipment itself can be enough to energize such panels to a level that creates a hazard to firefighters.
Will the presence of solar panels cause insurance companies to raise rates or even refuse to underwrite fire coverage? That might be the case if the preferred tactic with fires in buildings with solar roof panels is keeping the fire from spreading.
Unable to access roofs, firefighters sometimes switch goals -- from actively trying to save a building to preventing flames from spreading to neighboring properties -- a practice known as defensive firefighting, said Bert Davis, an engineer who performs forensic examinations at fires and studied solar markets at Carnegie Mellon University.
"I've talked to a lot of guys, and they're saying, 'We've never run into it, but if we do, we're going to fight it defensively,'" Davis said.