ST. PETERSBURG -- Quick, think of a profession that you consider most trustworthy.
Firefighters are often right at the top of that list.
Now, supporters of Amendment One, which has been criticized as being deceptively written, are using firefighters in their latest commercial.
“In my job I see a lot of fires that could've been stopped before they started,” states the ad, featuring a firefighter in full gear urging people to vote yes.
It goes on to suggest it’s a matter of safety, and that Amendment One would provide – “Commonsense safeguards for the health, safety, and welfare of Florida's consumers and it's first responders.”
Jim Tolley. President Florida Professional Firefighters contacted 10News late Monday.
Tolley says the FPF “has not received any compensation whatsoever for our involvement in Amendment One.”
He says the group’s decision to get involved in the issue came “after consultation with our Executive Board and various firefighter leaders from across the State and our International Association of Fire Fighters in Washington DC.”
The question of whether the FPF lobbyist overlap with those representing Amendment One was less clear, said Tolley. “We do have several consultants and contract lobbyists who do work for us as well as for other clients. Therefore, to be completely accurate, I would have to defer to them about what clients they represent,” he said. “I am aware that Screven Watson, who does work for us in various capacities, has also (been) advising the folks on Amendment One. I am not sure exactly what his role is with the Amendment One group.”
Tolley pointed to “several studies that discuss in great detail the issues between Firefighter Safety and Solar energy sources. I think you will see that our concern is real and valid,” he said.
Despite the ad's claim, Hillsborough County says it takes no position on the amendment, describing the group featured - Florida Professional Firefighters - as a non-profit lobbying association.
That revelation left some people wondering why highlight the FPF endorsement?
“You know as far as firefighters go, what does that have to do with them charging people for solar power?” said Dirk Laycox, a local contractor.
We reached out to several more Bay Area fire departments, asking for their thoughts about solar panels, and if they felt they posed a potential safety hazard.
Polk County, Clearwater, the cities of Tampa and St. Petersburg all said they take no position.
Polk officials said they couldn't remember a fire related to solar panels in at least the past two years. Tampa said it couldn't recall one in a decade.
Greg Felsman, who said he was familiar with the controversy over the wording of Amendment one was cynical about the endorsement.
“They're just trying to use the trust factor of the firefighters is what they're trying to do,” said Felsman.
A recent report from the International Association of Certified Home Inspectors found solar panels, which are properly installed, don't start fires.
However, improperly installed, as the ad suggests can be dangerous, potentially causing electric arcing.
The heavy panels also weigh heavily on what might be a fire-weakened roof leading to a collapse.
And turning off the power can be an issue too.
“The power company is basically eliminated. So now who's responsible?” said Lt. Steve Lawrence, a spokesman for St. Petersburg Fire rescue. “Either the fire fighters or the homeowner, and that's where -- if it's not installed properly -- the firefighters are putting themselves at risk and in danger.”
Some had already criticized Amendment One as intentionally deceptive.
Adding firefighters to the campaign, some speculate, could be an effective way to try to restore credibility.
Millie Ramos, who said she had not voted yet, said an endorsement from firefighters could influence her.
“It would weigh it more towards yes if they're backing it up,” said Ramos, “Because they are respectful citizens of the community.”
But the ad's insinuation that the panels could themselves pose a significant safety risk is a claim several Bay Area fire departments seem reluctant to back.
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