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.”

Arroyo/South Arbor Heights Conduit Installation Project Begins This May

Starting in May 2018, Seattle City Light will be working in the Arroyo/South Arbor Heights area to install new electrical conduits, vaults and streetlights. This work is needed to replace aging underground, direct buried cables in the neighborhood.

Construction will start at California Avenue SW, between SW 106th and 107th streets. To follow the progress of this work, please visit our website.

What You Can Expect:

City Light crews will be working in multiple locations at a time. Construction will start at California Avenue SW, between SW 106th and 107th streets. Customers can expect temporary parking and traffic restrictions. Crews will work to limit traffic impacts.

Example of crews trenching for new conduit.

Trenching for conduits will occur in the public right-of-way (e.g. street and planting strips). Some sidewalk and driveway aprons will be affected. Trenches will be covered with steel plates or fenced off outside of construction work hours.

Maintenance power outages are required to do the work safely. Affected residents will be notified in advance before any outage.

Timing & Coordination:

  • Civil and electrical construction is estimated to last approximately 18-20 months. Additional streetlight work will follow.
  • Daily work hours are from Mondays through Fridays, 9 a.m. to 3 p.m., and weekends from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. Construction could extend beyond these hours, as needed.

Customers can contact David Mannery, Senior Electrical Service Representative at (206) 386-4245 or

Visit Seattle City Light’s “At Work in Your Neighborhood” website for the latest updates on this project:

City Light Completes Duct Bank Installation in South Lake Union

In March 2018, Seattle City Light crews completed the final civil work in South Lake Union. Crews installed electrical vaults and duct banks on Harrison Street, between Dexter and 9th avenues north.

Completion of this work will result in increased electrical reliability for the South Lake Union neighborhood.

City Light thanks its customers for their patience during the duration of this project.

Learn more about this project and others by visiting Seattle City Light’s “At Work in Your Neighborhood” website.

Crews Complete Electrical Reliability Work in Tukwila

This past December, a Seattle City Light contractor completed the final repair work on several existing electrical conduits along 42nd Avenue South in Tukwila, WA. The project also included the installation of new vaults to enhance reliability for electrical service.

Map of the construction work area on 42nd Avenue South.

Pictured: Restored area on the east side of 42nd Avenue South. Contracted crews repaired electrical conduit and installed a vault.

Contracted crews started this three-month project in late October 2017. City Light thanks the residents of Tukwila for their patience during the successful completion of this project.

Learn about this project and others by visiting Seattle City Light’s “At Work in Your Neighborhood” website.

Seattle City Light to Repair Conduit on 42nd Avenue South

In late October 2017, a Seattle City Light contractor will be working along 42nd Avenue South in Tukwila, WA to repair existing electrical conduits and install new vaults. This work will enhance the electrical system’s reliability and reduce the likelihood of unplanned power outages.

Map of construction wok area on 42nd Avenue South in Tukwila.

Contracted crews will be working on the east side of the sidewalk on 42nd Avenue South to complete these repairs, which may cause some noise due to heavy equipment. However, the contractor will adhere to the City of Tukwila’s noise ordinance.

The contractor will require a road closure (with local access) to set the electrical vault with a crane.

Access to most driveways will be maintained at all times. Others, near the work area will have temporary driveways and routed access.

In order for crews to do their work safely, maintenance power outages are required. Contracted crews will notify affected customers at least 24 hours in advance of any outage. The notifications will specify the date, time and duration of the outages.

This project is tentative to start in late October 2017. Construction will last approximately two months. Daily work hours are from Monday to Friday, 7:30 a.m. to 5 p.m., with possible weekend work. Any scheduled weekend work will be coordinated with the City of Tukwila.

For more information, please contact Brandon Miller, Resident Engineer at (206) 406-0412 or

Visit Seattle City Light’s construction website for the latest updates on this project: