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Northern Illinois first responders learn nuances emergencies involving solar panels

KIRKLAND – Kirkland Community Fire District hosted first responders from northern Illinois on July 28, for a solar panel training session lead by 9/11 responder, Joe Vallo the battalion chief for Jersey City, New Jersey’s Fire Department.

“There is no training like it in the area,” said Kirkland Community Fire District Chief Chad Connell.

Solar capacity in Illinois is expected to grow more than 1,700% over the next five years, according to the Solar Energy Industries Association. While most of the solar growth in the state over the past year has come from utility companies, around 100 megawatts of electricity generated in the state annually is from residential installations.

Connell said his fire district hasn’t dealt with any instances of fire emergencies near or involving solar panels, but considering solar panels harness electricity its imperative firefighters know how to squash a fire embroiling homes with solar panels.

“You know the fire department, the fire service always, we always train for the what ifs and try to stay ahead of everything,” he said. “So now with this starting to be more popular we need to be trained in how we respond to the scenes where this solar energy is powering these homes.”

Over the past year, solar energy has been the subject of several major commercial projects in DeKalb County. Those have not been without its controversy at the DeKalb County government level. In November, the DeKalb County Board approved a trio of industrial solar projects – two from Leeward Energies and one from Samsung – which will bring commercial solar farms to nearly 6,000 acres of privately-owned land in the county.

Despite the focus on commercial and community solar, Vallo said bread and butter fires are residential, which means as residential solar panels grow, fire departments are far more likely to respond to a call for homes with solar installations than they are for a solar garden.

Vallo said the most important thing the firefighters learned was how to operate around any type of solar energy, specifically photovoltaic. For him, facilitating training sessions like this means he’s keeping firefighters safe.

“Most of them don’t understand that it’s a different type of energy production. We’ve been working around electric for a long time, it’s just how to operate around a new source,” he said.

The training on firefighting where solar panels are present was organized by Joseph McClintock, a solar panel consultant for His father is a coworker and friend of Vallo. McClintock is a Kirkland resident who’s facilitated solar installations for more than 200 homeowners in DeKalb County. His efforts to create the event resulted in around 50 first responders, mainly firefighters, from 12 different departments becoming educated on fires involving solar panels.

“It’s great to see such a big turn out,” McClintock said.

During the training, Vallo taught Illinois firefighters how to apply strategies and tactics they already know to fires involving solar installations. The idea was to teach the firefighters how to not get themselves or somebody 10 feet from them killed. The first concern mentioned by firefighters attending the training was how to not get electrocuted.

“It’s important because it’s new, it’s new energy, it’s new to everybody,” Connell said. “This is great timing for us.”

Source: The Daily Chronicle

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