Chicago — Powering Chicago announced a free solar safety training program for Chicago area fire departments designed to help firefighters safely handle solar panels while on the job.
Launched in late 2019 as a pilot program, more than 150 firefighters from 12 suburban departments have successfully completed the training to date.
With generous federal and state incentives available to homeowners and business owners who adopt renewable energy practices, solar panel installations are on the rise in Illinois. According to the Solar Energy Industries Association, the amount of solar capacity installed in Illinois is expected to grow by more than 1,700% over the next five years.
As the prevalence of solar panels in the state increases, so too do the risks for firefighters who lack proper education and training necessary to safely deal with them in an emergency. Electrocution, exposure to hazardous substances, and roof collapse from improper installations are just a few of the risks firefighters face when they encounter solar panels on the job.
“Solar power is an important element of Illinois’ renewable energy future, but it presents unique challenges for first responders when they arrive on the scene,” said IBEW Local 134 Business Representative Bob Hattier, who leads the program in his capacity as an IREC Certified Master Trainer™ PV. “We offer this training as a free workforce development program to ensure firefighters are knowledgeable about the latest technologies and can work with their municipalities to enact codes that ensure public safety.”
The training program, which can be completed at the fire department’s facilities or at the IBEW/NECA Technical Institute in Alsip, IL, focuses on system awareness and identification, safety concerns and hazard mitigation, and codes and standards affecting solar and energy storage. The program is offered in two formats to best meet the needs of those participating, either as a three-day unit to reach all shifts from the participating fire department or as a one-day session only for key personnel.
To date, firefighters from Alsip, North Riverside, Berwyn, Tinley Park, Park Forest, University Park, Crete, Lockport, Dolton, Chicago Heights, Oak Forest and Cicero have participated in the training program.
“The training Powering Chicago’s members receive in renewable energy sources like solar panels is among the most advanced in the country,” said Gene Kent, director of the IBEW/NECA Technical Institute. “We want those who help keep our communities safe to benefit from those same training resources, which is why we’re providing this program free of charge. We know that in doing so, the firefighters who participate will be better able to identify potential problems, respond in a safe manner and serve their communities.”