As solar panels become more commonplace on the roofs of South Texas homes, Firefighters are facing more dangers than ever when a home with solar panels catches fire.

Special training is needed, and Nueces Electric Cooperative (NEC) is making that happen. NEC is sponsoring free classes which also give Continuing Education Units to these first responders.

“We really want to do this as a community service to volunteer fire departments and city fire departments,” said John L. Sims, Nueces Electric Cooperative CEO at the Corpus Christi-based cooperative, “This course would normally cost a firefighter $250 to attend to receive continuing education credit.”

Capt. Matthew Paiss of the San Jose (Calif.) Fire Dept., a nationally recognized expert on handling rooftop solar during a fire, will be at NEC teaching five courses over three days, July 10-12.

As a general rule, firefighters want to cut a hole in the roof of a burning house, because on a typical fire, all the heat and smoke and the hottest gasses, the toxic gasses, are going to be at the top of the structure. “When firefighters started going up on top of roofs and seeing that large areas of the roof are now covered with solar, they weren’t quite sure what to do. Can they just yank off the solar modules and put the hole there?” Paiss told “The Energy Show on Renewable Energy World.”

Firefighter blogs said yes, but according to Paiss, “That’s not a great thing to do.”

Even if the utility cuts power to the home, the PV units (solar panels) could still be producing electricity. And along with the risk of electrical shock, Paiss said rooftop solar brings other concerns, including the possibility of tripping and slipping, and the hazard of additional weight on a roof exposed to fire.

“But as solar technology is continuing to grow and expand, as people are installing distributed generation,” Sims said, “this is becoming more and more of an issue.”