So far in this series, we’ve discussed the specific risks green building elements pose in terms of igniting or facilitating a fire. And while sprinkler systems, insulation, and thermal barriers are all vital parts of the discussion, there is one question that trumps them all: What can we do to keep firefighters safe in these situations?

Sometimes the risk is as complicated as tracing the source of and connections between the electricity generated by photovoltaic panels. At other times, it’s as simple as the panels themselves becoming slippery and hazardous to first responders. There are a few simple elements a structure can incorporate in order to ensure firefighter safety.

One crucial consideration is access to and from the fire; this applies to both external and internal construction elements. Green buildings can mitigate some risk simply by ensuring a clear path for first responders. “Pedestrian-friendly” is a popular term in modern real estate, but the astute developer will clearly mark fire lanes and staging areas.

Once firefighters have reached the building, they often still need to navigate the roof, which can be particularly hazardous in the presence of photovoltaic panels. This process goes much more smoothly with clear pathways and open areas for responders to pass through safely. Roofs with panels should also avoid being overly crowded, as potential ventilation spots are vital in the event of a fire.

When panels and wiring are clearly labeled, firefighters are able to make informed decisions in the quickest amount of time. This is also a matter of planning ahead; when companies first install their solar panels, a copy of the plans should go directly to the local fire department.

As with anything, preparation is key. Firefighters and first responders need the most accurate information in the shortest amount of time, a feat that can only be accomplished through diligence on the part of those who own and operate green structures.

By Jeff Harrington, CEO and Founder of Harrington Group, Inc.