Seattle City Light and Seattle Fire Department Partner to Address Network Vault Fires

Credit: K. Kennedy

 

At an event and demonstration today with the Seattle Fire Department and Seattle City Light, Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan announced the first-in-the-nation partnership today between Seattle City Light and the Seattle Fire Department to more effectively fight fires in underground electrical vaults.

“Seattle has always been at the leading edge, and thanks to this innovative partnership, Seattle is now at the leading edge of fighting fires that are a danger to the public, our infrastructure, and our economy,” said Mayor Durkan during a demonstration of the new approach at City Light’s North Service Center. “This is the kind of collaboration and innovation we need as we work to deliver essential services, protect the public, and provide reliable electricity that powers Seattle. I am grateful to the men and women of the Seattle Fire Department and Seattle City Light who have made this vision for partnership a reality and who put themselves in harm’s way to limit the impact of these dangerous fires.”

The event included members of the Vault Response Team, which is comprised of specially trained Seattle Firefighters as well as executive members from both departments and other advocates of this partnership.

Last month, SFD Chief Harold Scoggins and City Light Interim General Manager and CEO Jim Baggs reached an agreement to solidify the partnership between the two departments and the Vault Response Team. The 48 members of the Vault Response Team will be continually trained to safely address the public safety needs resulting from network vault fire incidents. City Light will provide specialized supplies and equipment to treat these fires along with updated intel on City Light’s network maps.

Fire Chief Harold Scoggins praised the partnership for its innovation and what it means for other departments across the country.

“Vault fires create dangerous situations in confined spaces. Before this team was created, standard procedure was to keep the area clear and wait for the fire to burn itself out. This partnership, which takes an offensive approach, is a major advancement in our field and is an example that other energy providers and fire departments want to learn from. We are proud and thankful to have this vital resource here in Seattle.”

Electrical vault fires can be caused by something as simple as a cigarette butt landing on a pile of dried leaves or as critical as an arc flash created during maintenance. Their impact is costly and can be dangerous to the public and the firefighters extinguishing them. Within an instant, the pressure of a vault fire can launch a 300-pound utility cover up to three stories. To further complicate matters, these fires may cause large-scale power outages.

The fire department and City Light are deploying a new technology that can effectively and efficiently extinguish vault fires. With a financial contribution from City Light, the fire department revived an older truck that was scheduled for decommission to address these kinds of fires.

Armed with carbon dioxide canisters, Seattle firefighters can now remove the utility hole cover, insert a metal wand and inject the vault with carbon dioxide while covering the opening with a fire-resistant tarp. This removes the oxygen from the area, snuffing the fire by robbing it of oxygen. It is an offensive approach that keeps the fire from spreading throughout the entire vault system. Once the fire is out and the vault is cleared of smoke and carbon dioxide, City Light can de-energize electrical equipment, making the area safe for crews to begin repairs.

“This partnership enhances the safety of our both departments’ employees. We are exchanging information on safety practices and institutional knowledge while training together to ensure that these fires are extinguished safely and efficiently,” Baggs said. “Not only will this process reduce the amount of damage from these fires, but it can also greatly reduce the repair and outage time. This partnership is an insurance policy for our customers, the economic drivers in Seattle’s business core and for the public servants who address these fires.”

This technology reduces the potentially disastrous effect of these kinds of fires. While this method is crucial, the partnership between the fire department and City Light is the key ingredient to ensure its success. For Seattle Fire Captain Chris Greene, the technology behind extinguishing these fires is only one piece of a much larger puzzle.

“There are a variety of great products available to handle high-voltage emergencies, but without a partnership, fire departments and utilities are missing a key component,” explains Greene. “CO2 and other chemical extinguishers are in fact effective, but it’s an engineered solution to a problem that can have significant impacts. The true solution is a foundational relationship with the energy provider like City Light that builds long before a fire begins.”

National Electrical Safety Month: Contact Voltage

For our last installment of National Electrical Safety Month, we would like to share a little bit about City Light’s own focus on safety and how it has evolved over the years. In 2010 and 2015, City Light experienced multiple safety incidents involving employees and the community. These incidents created a wake-up call within the utility, leading to actions built on innovation, agency, and listening. Last month, City Light’s dedication to improving its safety culture was the cover story in Northwest Public Power Association’s Bulletin magazine.

 

Click here to view the article. Enjoy! 

 

 

National Electrical Safety Month: Power Lines on Trees

 

Some would say that spring is simply the most delightful time of the year here in Seattle (and frankly, it’s hard to disagree!). As trees and shrubs begin to blossom, it may be tempting to go outside and start trimming. Before you break out the shears, there are a few safety tips to keep in mind. We reached out to City Light’s arboriculturist and resident tree buff Heidi Narte for tips on how to keep your pines, maples and family safe around power lines.

 

Here are a few of Heidi’s handy safety tips:

  • Keep kids safe – make sure their play activities don’t include trees near power lines. Trees touching power lines may become energized, causing a dangerous situation for kids climbing in them, swinging in them or otherwise playing in them.

 

  • Heading out into your yard to prune trees and shrubs? Make sure you, your tools and the branches you want to prune are a safe distance from power lines. If the branches you’re pruning or your tools make contact with a power line, you could receive an electrical shock injury which can result in significant burns or even death. Branches, tools and you should be at least 10 feet from distribution power lines and 21 feet from high voltage transmission lines.

 

  • See a tree or branch touching a power line? Trees touching power lines may be energized and safety hazards. If you’re not sure whether a tree could cause an issue, give us a call and we’ll check it out!

 

If you have questions about power lines near trees, email SCLVegetation@seattle.gov or call (206) 386-1733 to check in with an arborist. For more information on how to keep your trees safe around power lines, check out the latest issue of Light Reading!

National Electrical Safety Month: Electric Shock Drowning

Faulty wiring in and around your home can have dangerous consequences. When it comes into contact with water, it can become deadly. According to the Electrical Safety Foundation International (EFSI), Electric Shock Drowning occurs when faulty wiring sends an electric current into the water. If someone is in the water, like inside a swimming pool, the current passes through the body, causing paralysis which could lead to drowning.

Here are a few tips on how to avoid electric shock drowning:

  • Locate and label all power switches to the pool, hot tub, spa equipment & lighting
  • Keep pools, hot tubs & spas 25 feet away from power lines
  • Hire a qualified electrician for wiring and repair work as well as annual inspections
  • Install Ground Fault Circuit Interpreters (commonly known as GFCI switches) on receptacles within 20 feet of water’s edge

EFSI recommends that if you see someone affected by Electric Shock Drowning, turn off the power sources and call 911. Do not enter the water.

For more information, check out ESFI’s infographic on the dangers of Electric Shock Drowning. 

 

National Electrical Safety Month: Downed Power Lines

Imagine this scenario: You’re driving in your neighborhood and BAM! another car crashes into a utility pole. In an instant, the pole crashes onto your vehicle.

What would you do?

Now, it may seem like an unlikely scenario, but it can happen. In fact, it happened to a teenager in Ohio last month (click here to watch their amazing story!) Odds are, you may not be sure what to do if you see a downed wire on the ground. Thankfully, we have a few tips for you.

Tip: If you find yourself near a downed power line, don’t walk or run…SHUFFLE! Keep your feet together and move at least 20 feet away. If a downed power line falls on your car, stay inside and call 911. Check out the video below featuring City Light’s own Ed Hill from Seattle Channel’s City Stream for a demonstration of how to do the Downed Wire Shuffle.

Remember:

Never touch or approach a downed wire or anything in contact with the wire.