As more South Carolinians take advantage of the tax incentives that come with solar power, firefighters are learning how to deal with the rooftop panels in potentially life-or-death situations.
The Columbia Fire Department sent a small group of firefighters to learn from Solarize South Carolina and SCE&G at a home on Byron Road on Thursday morning.
“We want the citizens to know that solar panels are in no way going to stop us,” Battalion Chief Christopher Kip said. “Firefighters are the most creative people in the world.”
Kunio Hara, the Byron Road homeowner, said he and his husband put in solar panels about a year ago.
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“It drastically reduced our energy bills, both gas and electric,” Hara said.
What are some of the challenges firefighters face when a home has solar panels? For one thing, it can be difficult to cut a hole in the roof when panels have to be removed first. Sometimes they can be pried off, Kip said. Others might need a ratchet set.
The Columbia Fire Department is reaching out to fire departments in Arizona, Kip said – where solar power has been around for a while – to learn what they consider best practices.
The panels can also present an electrical hazard. As more homes take advantage of tax incentives – which, combining federal and state credits, can pay for up to 55 percent of the cost of panels – firefighters have to learn how to shut off solar power for their own safety. For another thing, panels can add extra weight in a situation where flames might already be collapsing a structure.
The seminar Thursday was the second such training Columbia firefighters have gone through, officials said.