Earlier this month, some New Jersey firefighters reported being hampered in their response efforts by solar panels on the roofs of buildings.

This may not exactly be a pervasive problem yet, but the growth of the solar industry in New Jersey and elsewhere is forcing officials to think critically about a solution.

Manfredini Mauro, ThinkStock

"It's a very rare circumstance that solar panels and fire sort of intersect," said Dan Whitten, spokesman for the Solar Energy Industries Association. But Whitten, who was also quoted in The Press of Atlantic City report last week, said his organization is working with others like the National Fire Protection Association and the International Code Council to develop a plan of action for firefighters when dealing with structures that use solar panels.

With more houses expected to switch to solar in future years, Whitten said firefighters will have to contend with this issue, and so educating them is key.

"It is something that we are definitely putting a ton of time into, and it's very important that we get this right," he said, adding that firefighter safety is one of SEIA's highest priorities, and firefighters must be made aware of the circumstances they face when battling a blaze where solar panels are present.

Like propane tanks or similarly inherent hazards, Whitten characterized solar panels as just another element that could potentially change how fire crews approach their response to an incident. He said for home or business owners looking to go solar, certain precautions can and should be followed.

"In the case of solar panels, it's really important that there be lanes between the panels for firefighters to work with," he said. "It's really important that everybody follow the codes that are in place."

Most important, Whitten said, is easy access to an electricity shutoff, and also a shutoff mechanism for any backup systems.

Whitten stresses, however, that good all-around safety practices and communication remain "absolutely critical" in the response to any type of fire situation, regardless of the presence of solar panels.

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