The call came in as a fire in a garage. It turned out to be a bit more complicated than that.
When Lower Township’s volunteer firefighters arrived on the scene earlier this month, they found a 10-kilowatt wind turbine spinning out of control, with flames erupting from the turbine atop an almost 100-foot tower.
As if that wasn’t problematic enough, the out-of-control wind turbine was sending a surge of electricity down the tower into the electrical panel controlling it in the garage. Even after firefighters pulled the electrical panel, the out-of-control wind turbine continued to spin and generate power.
Luckily, no one was hurt, and the fire atop the tower eventually extinguished itself. But the event was a wake-up call for Lower Township firefighters – and should serve as warning to firefighters everywhere, as home wind turbines become increasingly popular.
“We certainly thought it was going to come down. It was kind of a unique situation for us to handle,” Villas Fire Chief Richard Harron Jr. said.
We aren’t suggesting that wind power is inherently or especially dangerous. It remains one of the best “green” options out there. But anything can catch fire – and local firefighters at least apparently weren’t fully aware of the problems associated with fighting a wind-turbine fire until this incident occurred at a Villas home on Jan. 8. The fire was unique enough that The Press story on the event was posted on firehouse.com., a firefighting news and information website.
“We’re going to set up training for local fire departments. It enlightened our eyes,” Harron said. “The whole unit is electric.”
Electricity and fire are a dangerous mix. And, as Harron noted, more and more residential wind turbines will be coming online in the coming years. Many are likely to be in rural areas staffed by volunteer firefighters.
Harron deserves praise for recognizing the potential problem and the need for training. If they aren’t already, all fire departments need to train and prepare for this new threat.
One expert told Press staff writer Richard Degener that the Lower Township fire probably was the result of operator error or installer error and shouldn’t be used to justify more regulations on wind power. Fair enough. Clearly, these fires are rare.
But there will be more of them, and fire departments need to be prepared.
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