Firefighters from throughout Los Angeles County convened in South Pasadena last week for safety training involving fighting fires with structures that have solar panels. Photo by Steve Whitmore

Firefighters from throughout Los Angeles County convened in South Pasadena last week to learn the potentially life-threatening hazards of fighting structure fires that have solar panels.

The simple reason for the training is to “save lives,” said CJ Hamilton, electrical safety instructor, during one of the breaks during the week-long training that had firefighters from Alhambra, San Marino, South Pasadena and Los Angeles County.

“The biggest challenge is to keep up with the changes in the solar business,” Hamilton said. “It changes so fast, day-to-day, so that what we are doing today to prepare to fight fires with solar panels may not be affective tomorrow.” Hamilton has more than 30 years’ experience working with high voltage/solar panels.

Firefighters from throughout Los Angeles County convened in South Pasadena last week for safety training involving fighting fires with structures that have solar panels. Photos by Steve Whitmore

The training focuses on the basics of firefighting techniques with solar.

“The first thing I teach them is before doing anything, turn off the power,” Hamilton said. “I show them where and how.” One of the other simple examples is the weight of solar panels.

“They can’t be attached to the roof because of the weight so they are held down by ballasts,” Hamilton said. “Before fighting the fire, you must ready the area first.” The how-to training also featured how to properly disconnect solar panels and how to manage solar power systems during an incident.

Los Angeles County Fire Capt. Gabriel Barajas applauded the training that had more than 100 firefighters in attendance. The fire engines were parked along El Centro Avenue during the week-long affair.

“This is excellent, huge, a must,” Barajas said during one of the breaks from the classroom-like instruction held in the South Pasadena Library’s Community Room. “It’s essential to learn this now because we can put our people at risk for not knowing how to start (fighting fires with solar panels).”

What is the danger? Electrocution.

South Pasadena Fire Chief Paul Riddle explained it this way.

“Every year Firefighters are injured and in the worst cases are killed in the line of duty due to electrocution. In fact, on average, 100 firefighters a year are injured by electrical current and 14 are killed. That’s what makes this training so valuable to our personnel. It reinforces the importance of fire scene awareness and safety. It also provides the knowledge of how to safely deal with electrical current on scene of a structure fire or other emergency.”

Steve Whitmore
Author

Steve Whitmore is the editor for the South Pasadena Review. Steve has spent more than four decades as an award-winning print and broadcast journalist with a 16-year stint as the senior media advisor for the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department. Steve comes to us from the Keene Sentinel in Keene, New Hampshire, where he covered politics and was a columnist.

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