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Edgeworth solar controls could protect emergency responders

| Wednesday, Dec. 4, 2013, 9:00 p.m.

Ordinances governing solar panels in Edgeworth Borough could provide for safer conditions of firefighters dispatched to put out a blaze.

Edgeworth Council members could vote this month to approve the new regulations.

If approved, regulations would allow for a disconnect process in the event of a fire and “also that (solar panels) be a certain distance from the edge of the roof so that the firefighters aren't potentially injured when they fight a fire and have to cut a hole in the roof for ventilation,” councilman Ivan Hofmann said.

The additions are consistent with what is being proposed on the state level, Hofmann said.

Solar panels could pose a threat to firefighters when battling a fire, according to the Massachusetts-based National Fire Protection Association.

“Today's emergency responders face unexpected challenges as new uses of alternative energy increase,” a report revised in October by the organization says.

“These renewable power sources save on the use of conventional fuels, such as petroleum and other fossil fuels, but they also introduce unfamiliar hazards that require new fire fighting strategies and procedures.”

The report details several incidents across the country since the early 1980s where solar panels were part of a dispatched fire call.

“Certain questions remain unanswered about the performance characteristics of roofs equipped with solar power systems and their ability to withstand external fire exposure.”

The report indicates there are “very few incidents of fires originating with or directly involving solar power systems. This implies that the solar power industry has a relatively good record when it comes to their equipment and components contributing to the source of ignition.”

In August, Sewickley Council members approved the addition of solar panels on a Henry Avenue home owned by Andrew and Dorothy Falk.

Some of the Falks' neighbors have spoken out against the couple's decision to install solar panels on a portion of their roof and on their garage.

Like Edgeworth, Sewickley leaders are updating ordinances for solar energy.

But Henry Avenue resident Christy Semple questioned Sewickley's process for approving the panels.

Sewickley Council President Bob Hague said the development of guidelines wouldn't have affected the Falks' application because their request was made before policy changes were considered.

Edgeworth leaders will consider changes to its ordinance at the borough's regularly scheduled monthly council meeting at 7:30 p.m. on Dec. 17 in the borough building, 301 Beaver Road.

Bobby Cherry is an associate editor for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-324-1408 or rcherry@tribweb.com.

Editor's note: An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated that electrocution is a leading cause of injury to firefighters.

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