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Sonoma County fire stations upgrade with DIY solar-powered generators

Sonoma County fire stations upgrade with DIY solar-powered generators
Sonoma County fire stations upgrade with DIY solar-powered generators 02:21

SANTA ROSA -- Three Sonoma County fire stations are now equipped with a new emergency response tool: mobile generators powered by the sun.

On Thursday, firefighters got a hands-on lesson on how they work.

"What we're building here is a solar-powered generator," said Jim Kracke with the Sonoma Valley Fire Department "This is going to be in one of our stations. The station it is going to does not have a backup generator. So now it will."

It could prove to be a life-saving tool in the field, but building it won't be easy.

"It's a learning experience for a lot of us," Kracke said. "There are schematics, instructions. We have instructors that are overseeing the process."

"These are higher voltage systems," explained Nate Heegard with the Footprint Project, an organization that helps communities build and maintain solar generators for power outages and disaster response. "We are dealing with 48 V batteries, and there's a big safety component there."

So for two days, these firefighters got a crash course in the nuts and bolts of green energy, an emerging part of disaster response.

"So, instead of running a fossil fuel generator that's creating the problems with the climate that's creating the disaster that happened, we are looking at changing that on its head," said retired firefighter Richard Birt.

And while equipment comes in all shapes and sizes, the fire department teams are building out a kit. The DIY approach is part of the broader goal of resiliency; having tools ready to go in an emergency, and when something else goes wrong, not needing a trip to the store.

"If you are in the middle of a climate disaster, you can't send it back," Heegard said of the thinking behind a component set. "If a wire fails or a breaker trips internally, you can open it up and test it and see what's wrong, at least have the knowledge to be able to identify the problem, and hopefully fix it."

"It's like preparing your house for a wildfire," Kracke said. " You need to do it all the time, not wait until the fire is coming."

The Sonoma Valley, Fort Ross, and Two Rock Fire Districts all get to take one of the units home. One of them has already been named 'Ginny.' The fire departments say they are already game-planning for where they might be the most useful the next time the power goes out.  

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