MILLVALE, Pa. — Several area fire companies are asking people to notify them if their homes or businesses utilize solar energy systems.
The request comes following a difficult battle for firefighters earlier this week in Millvale.
Crews spent more than 7 hours on Sherman Street on Monday, after a fire broke out at a solar-powered building.
Lithium-ion batteries used for the system caught fire in the basement, posing risks and challenges for firefighters.
Officials tell Channel 11 that the burning lithium compounds can release gases and become hazardous. Channel 11 reported on Monday that firefighters were all observed being hosed down and decontaminated at the scene.
Getting the flames under control is also challenging, as firefighters cannot immediately hose down these burning batteries.
“We can’t put water on it until it’s deemed safe,” said Lt. Brennan Greene with the Cherry City Volunteer Fire Company, which was among several crews assisting Millvale on Monday.
Lt. Greene explained that a special type of extinguisher, Class C, is required.
“It’s like a dry powder chemical that blankets that electrical fire and knocks it down,” he said. “Before that power is isolated, it’s not safe for us to put water on the fire.”
Lt. Greene’s Fire Company is among those asking residents to let them know if they have these lithium-ion batteries, whether it be for solar panels or even an electric car.
“It helps us with our preplanning,” he said.
Preplanning involves keeping note of any potential challenges or hazards in the community, including water supply problems or building access issues.
Those notes are then kept on file in the fire trucks, for firefighters to reference during a call.
“We look and see what those issues are if there are any,” he said. “We’re prepared if there is an issue.”
Residents in the Cherry City section of Shaler who use these systems are asked to provide their name, contact phone number and address either via Facebook messaging or email, firstname.lastname@example.org. Greene said the information will remain confidential.
Cecil Township Vol. Fire Company #3 is also asking residents to send these details to email@example.com.
In Millvale, people can send their information to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Millvale officials are also warning the public to be aware of “improperly installed or maintained lithium-ion batteries,” which can experience “conditions that damage the battery cells and lead to something called thermal runaway.”
Millvale fire officials explain that overheating can result, and a fire could break out. People are encouraged to pay attention to these signs: the smell of rotten eggs around your battery, obvious overheating, or fluctuating charging current.
As for Monday’s fire in Millvale, no one was hurt, at last check. An official cause remains under investigation.
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