LAS VEGAS (KXNT) – A Las Vegas Fire Captain has been assisting a group that has gone to Puerto Rico to install solar micro grids, or solar panels. They’re also putting in water desalination and purification systems, and water production systems to fire stations on the hurricane-ravaged island of Puerto Rico.

Captain Richard Birt, a 17 year veteran of Las Vegas Fire and Rescue, is considered an expert on the use of solar power. He has been working with a San Francisco Bay Area based non profit organization, Empowered by Light, to aid in the recovery of Puerto Rico.

Empowered by Light started its work in Zambia in 2011, bringing light and solar power to some of the country’s most remote schools. Since then, they have joined forces with communities throughout Africa, Asia, and the Americas, enabling them to leap frog fossil fuels and gain access to clean energy while protecting fragile ecosystems and threatened species. From installing solar panels that enable rangers in remote stations to protect endangered wildlife, to helping women start solar businesses, to providing light so school children can study at night, Empowered by Light empowers communities to build healthier, sustainable, more prosperous futures.

Marco Krapels, Co-founder of Empowered by Light and Birt, who are good friends, discussed how important it was to have the fire stations available to assist the public who were suffering from the extreme damage as a result of Hurricane Maria. Birt coordinated efforts to install solar power at two Puerto Rico fire stations after discussing it with San Juan fire chief Alberto Cruz. Within ten days of discussing the project, Krapels and Birt were on the ground in Puerto Rico to begin the project. That included the delivery and installation of solar powered micro grids at two fire stations on the island, as well as the deployment of three solar powered desalination systems, five innovative water production systems and three portable solar powered units to remote communities on the island.

The first solar system with battery storage was installed October 13 at the Barrio Obrero fire station in San Juan. The second installation was done a few days later at another local fire station.

Birt is planning to return to Puerto Rico next week to install another solar power system at another fire station. Las Vegas firefighter Chad Paddock, will be taking vacation time, just as Birt has, to go on the relief mission next week to help. Paddock is paying all of his own expenses for the trip.

There are 96 fire stations in Puerto Rico, two are already online with the new solar systems. Empowered by Light recently received a $100,000 donation which will be used to install similar solar systems at another four fire stations in Puerto Rico. Captain Birt says he’s going to keep working on the project until all 96 fire stations have the new systems.


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