Kerryman

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'Fire crews not trained to counter fire threat at battery compounds'

Protesters voice concerns but council says fire training can only begin once facilities are built

Management at Kerry County Council say fire crews in Kerry are not yet trained to deal with the potential disasters caused by fires at battery storage facilities.

In May 2019 planning was approved for 40 battery units, transformers and associated equipment at a facility in Ballynahulla near Ballydesmond, while planning for a second facility is being sought in Tarbert.

Battery sites store excess energy generated from wind turbines and solar panels and if they catch fire can emit what's called Hydrogen Fluoride - highly toxic if inhaled.

The council's reply followed a motion tabled by Cllr Jackie Healy Rae during Monday's meeting of Kerry County Council where protesters from Sliabh Luachra and north Kerry protested outside council buildings against the installation of battery facilities, fears for public safety and excessive wind farm development.

'Our children's future is at stake' one protester shouted, claiming the council's lack of consultation is adding to concerns that more battery sites will be given the go-ahead.

Chairman of Sliabh Luachra Windfarm Awareness Group, Fred O'Sullivan said more information and consultation with communities is needed.

A native of Gneeveguilla, Fred is fearful that if a fire starts in the facility in Ballynahulla - which the council received over 65 formal objections by residents in the townlands of Ballydesmond and Gneeveguilla - the general direction of the wind would bring toxic smoke in the direction of East Kerry and parts of north Kerry and north Cork.

"We've been totally sold out with the zoning and the planning. We're awash with turbines and now we have this battery approval. I'm shocked by Kerry County Council's decision to approve this," he said. 

"If disaster strikes, it's a threat to our homes and our communities. They should freeze planning until more is known about the dangers."

Cllr Healy-Rae's motion contained a three-part request asking if the council had an emergency and evacuation plan in place; if fire crews had the relevant equipment and training to deal with battery storage fires, and, lastly, if the council has conducted cross-county planning with other local authorities with regard to evacuation plans in the event of a battery fire.

"There is no point in reacting to this once something happens. I would much prefer that we be prepared in case it does," said Cllr Healy-Rae.

Management stressed that fire crews had the relevant equipment but that training to deal with battery fires can only be given once the facility is built.

"They '[fire crews] can't be trained if the facility is not built. They are trained to deal with electrical fires but as with any industrial facility, once it's constructed it will then be inspected. Any further training or equipment will be given once a process has been approved by the fire service," said management.

Cllr Healy-Rae's motion was seconded by Mayor of Kerry Niall Kelleher, who also brought a motion before council in May outlining his fears for public safety from what he called: 'emerging technology'. An explosion at a battery storage site in Phoenix, Arizona in April caused severe damage and injury to dozens of fire crews, while the South Korean government recently halted the installation of  over 500 battery station sites over fears of fire.  

Kerryman