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Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Solar panels impede firefighters efforts to extinguish 11 alarm NJ warehouse blaze, danger of electrocution from solar panels forced firefighters to fight blaze from a distance

9/2/13,Solar Panels Growing Hazard for Firefighters,, by Vince Lattanzi

Concerns over electrocution and a lack of roof access hampered firefighting efforts at Dietz & Watson blaze.”

“Firefighters battling the massive 11-alarm blaze at the Dietz & Watson distribution center in South Jersey faced an unlikely foe during the fight — solar panels.

A solar array with more than 7,000 photovoltaic panels lined the roof of the nearly 300,000 square-foot refrigeration facility which served as a temporary storage center for the company’s deli meats and cheeses. But the panels, while environmentally sustainable and cost-saving, may have led to the complete destruction of the warehouse.

Fighting the fire under bright blue skies Sunday, Delanco Fire Chief Ron Holt was forced to keep firefighters from attacking the blaze from the roof because of electrocution concerns.
“With all that power and energy up there, I can’t jeopardize a guy’s life for that,” said Holt. Those electrocution fears combined with concerns of a collapse forced firefighters to simply spray the building with water and foam from afar.

Ken Willette from the National Fire Protection Association, a nonprofit that develops standards for firefighting, says electrocution is one of the hazards firefighters are increasingly facing fighting blazes at structures where solar panels are deployed.

“Those panels, as long as there’s any kind of light present, whether it’s daylight or it’s electronic lamp light, will generate electricity,” he said.

A 2011 study from the Underwriters Laboratory found solar panels, being individual energy producers, could not be easily de-energized from a single point like other electric sources. Researchers recommended throwing a tarp over the panels to block light, but only if crews could safely get to the area.

“Very often they’re not wired like your home, where you have a master breaker. Even if you turn the breaker off, the panels still generate electricity and you need to cover them and prevent any light from getting into them,” Willette said.
Flooding a roof with solar panels also presents access issues that can stop firefighters from making ventilation holes used to extinguish the fire.

Willette says the issues force firefighters to take a defensive approach to fighting the flames by staying away from the building – rather than going inside and attacking the fire source.

“It definitely impedes the firefighting operation and any time you impede firefighting operation, you slow down suppression efforts,” he said.

From 2010 through 2012, photovoltaic solar panel installations have jumped nearly 300-percent, according to the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA). Forecasts show the trend will continue to increase sharply through 2017.

The SEIA also says New Jersey has the second highest solar capacity in the United States.
With the continued growth of solar panels and other alternative energies, Willette says code officials, builders and developers need to work with local fire departments to ensure installations are designed with firefighting in mind.
“The new paradigm is firefighters might encounter building systems they have little or no knowledge of,” Willette said. “It used to be homes and commercial buildings had roofs and walls and heating and ventilation systems that the fire service was used to dealing with…modern technology, both in building construction and these other alternative energy systems, have changed that.””

image, Owen Brennan,


9/3/13, 11-Alarm Fire Guts Dietz & Watson Warehouse,”, by Kelly Bayliss, Danielle Johnson and Dan Stamm 

Fear of electrocution, collapse forced fire chief to pull back crews.”

It took more than 24 hours to bring a massive fire at a Dietz & Watson storage plant in Delanco, N.J. under control. Company officials say the fire shouldn’t affect costs at the deli counter.  A massive fire that destroyed a South Jersey food warehouse has finally been contained, more than a day after it broke out.

The fire broke out at the Dietz & Watson cold storage facility on Cooperstown Road in Delanco, Burlington County, N.J. around 1:30 p.m. Sunday and caused the roof, lined with thousands of solar panels, to collapse within hours. Thick, black smoke could be seen billowing from the facility miles away.

“It’s just an intense fire,” said Delanco Fire Chief Ron Holt. “It’s going to take some time, and we don’t know what it’s going to do.”

By Monday morning, the blaze continued to burn as water issues, the threat of electrocution and other factors hindered firefighting efforts. Crews began to arrive before 9 a.m. While fire officials were finally able to contain the blaze early Monday evening, they also say it will likely continue to smolder for the next few days.

More than 200 firefighters from Burlington, Mercer, Gloucester, Camden and Atlantic Counties were brought to the distribution center which is about 300,000 square feet — roughly the size of five football fields.



Firefighters had to pull back at some points because the fully-charged solar panels posed the risk of electrocution.
“With all that power and energy up there, I can’t jeopardize a guy’s life for that,” said Holt.

Officials say the fire was focused between the trusses and solar panels on the roof. There have been two explosions so far and at least one wall collapsed.

In 2010, the company installed more than 7,000 solar power modules, which officials claimed would reduce the facility’s energy use by nearly 20 percent. Buildings with solar power systems “can present a variety of significant hazards” for firefighters including poor air quality and electrocution, according to the National Fire Protection Association.

The Burlington County hazmat team was called to the scene to test the air quality and concluded that there is no hazard at this time. However, residents received a reverse 911 message from the Beverly and Edgewater Park Joint Office of Emergency Management which warned them to stay inside their homes, close their windows and avoid breathing in the smoke.

“Unless you’re standing right there and breathing, it’s dissipating before it hits ground,” said Chief Holt. “That’s why we called the health department and hazmat team… (If they say close your window) that’s their expertise, that’s what I go with.”
No residents were evacuated.

Around 5 p.m. Sunday, fire officials were concerned that the water and foam used to fight the blaze would cause the roof to collapse and called all firefighters out of the building as a precaution.

Two firefighters suffered minor injuries including Chief Holt who broke his foot. “If the building collapses, it collapses…it can be replaced. I’m not sending a man in to lose a life,” said Holt.


Trucked-in water is being dumped into large temporary pools, which are then connected to hoses and sent spraying on the building.

The Camden Fire Boat crew also responded to the scene to help stretch a water pipeline from the Rancocas Creek.

New Jersey American Water asked customers in Edgewater Park, Beverley, and Delanco to limit their water usage as crews battle the blaze.

Due to the large volumes of water being used by firefighters to tackle the six-alarm blaze, we ask that customers restrict their home water usage until such time as the fire is successfully brought under control. Additionally, you may experience periods of low pressure as we try to direct as much water to the firefighting efforts as possible,” according to Communications Director Peter Eschbach.

“That’s major because (without water) you are not putting the fire out,” said Holt.


The Delanco Riverside Bridge was closed around 7 p.m. Officials did not indicate when it would reopen.

Sandy Iwanicki, who lives near the warehouse, said she initially thought a plane had crashed. “It looked to me like the kind of scene you would see if a plane crashed the black smoke was immense it was amazing,” said Iwanicki.

Dietz & Watson officials released a statement on their website shortly after the blaze....

Dietz & Watson employs more than 130 workers at the facility….

Officials say the facility was not operating Sunday. Two security guards were working outside the building. The company, founded in 1939, opened the center in 2007. It is their main distribution center. They also have processing facilities in Philadelphia, Baltimore and Corfu, New York.

The cause of the fire likely won’t be known until the blaze is extinguished and investigators can get inside.” via caller to Red Eye Radio 


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