Glowing electric panel interior, FPE breaker failed to trip Federal Pacific Electric (FPE) Panel Fire & Failure Photos
involving FPE Stab-Lok® Equipment

  • FPE FAILURE FIRE PHOTOS - CONTENTS: Field reports & photos of FPE Stab-Lok® panel or breaker incidents & Field photographs of FPE Stab-Lok® equipment failures
  • POST a QUESTION or READ FAQs about whether or not the FPE Stab-Lok® hazard is "real" or "theoretical" - just look at the field reports here

InspectAPedia tolerates no conflicts of interest. We have no relationship with advertisers, products, or services discussed at this website.

This document provides field reports and photographs of Federal Pacific FPE Stab-Lok® equipment fires, overheating, trip-failures, burn ups and other dangerous failures.

Replacement FPE Stab-Lok® circuit breakers are unlikely to reduce the failure risk of this equipment. We recommend that residential FPE Stab-Lok® electrical panels be replaced entirely or the entire panel bus assembly be replaced, regardless of FPE model number or FPE year of manufacture. We do not sell circuit breakers nor any other products. 

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Photo-Documented Field Reports of FPE Incidents and FPE Stab-Lok® & Federal Pioneer Breaker or Panel Failures - Photographs

Glowing electric panel interior, FPE breaker failed to trip

FPE Overheat Field Report: FPE breaker fails to trip, meltdown

Federal Pacific panel bad neutral bar connection. I went out on a service call because the cable guy said there was power on the grounding system at his junction point to the house. I heard a sizzling noise when I pulled off the panel cover and traced it to the grounding locknut arcing. The neutral was shot so the current was using every path possible and the grounding locknut was not connected real well. I got a couple great digital shots - yes the orange glow on the middle picture is arcing! -- J.S. to DJF by email 8/28/2005

Photographs of source of overheating, glowing electric panel, and FPE equipment that failed to trip

Photograph of Bad neutral connection, FPE breaker failed to trip

Bad neutral connection, 1 - panel overview (above)

Photograph of Bad neutral connection, FPE breaker failed to trip

Bad neutral connection, 2 - glowing electrical panel!

Photograph of Bad neutral connection, FPE breaker failed to trip

Bad neutral connection, 3 - bad neutral wire (above right)

FPE Fire Field Report: Electrical Wiring blamed in Pennsylvania Fire, 1980, reported April 2010

Homeowner Anna Lunz reported to D Friedman that her homeowner's insurance from Mutual Benefit Insurance, a Pennsylvania insurer, had just been cancelled (April 2010) following the observation by the insurance company's inspector that the home was served by an FPE Stab-Lok® electrical panel.

In discussing this concern (we recommended immediate installation of smoke detectors and replacement of the electrical panel as soon as possible), Ms. Lunz reported that in 1980 this modular home suffered a major fire, including loss of two thirds of the front of the home, due to an electrical fire that began in a dining room ceiling light fixture. The fire began while the home was unoccupied - the family were out skiing. According to the owner, electrical wiring for the ceiling light circuit was found to have fused (apparently a dead short) without having tripped the FPE Stab-Lok® circuit breaker in the home's electrical panel.

Lunz added her personal observation that following the fire, workers and neighbors inspecting the home believed that the electrical power had been shut down by switching "off" the main circuit breaker in the FPE Stab-Lok® electrical panel. According to Lunz, when an inspector attempted to examine the electrical panel,

"... he just touched the turned-off electrical panel with a screwdriver when we all observed a huge bright flash of light."

While the loss from the 1980 fire, whose origin was attributed to an electrical failure, was mostly covered by the owner's fire insurance policy, when the same electrical panel, still in the home, was observed in 2010 the insurance company declined coverage - presumably until the electrical panel was replaced. -- D Friedman, by telephone with Anna Lunz, 4/6/2010

FPE Fire Field Report: FPE breaker results in Ohio fire, December 1999

Last week I was working on an electric furnace which is in a mobile home. This home has a 200 amp FPE entrance panel in it, with a 100 amp breaker for the furnace. As it turned out, the breaker was weak and would not hold. The customer called around and to my surprise was able to find a 100 amp FPE breaker at a home improvement/lumber yard in the next town. They went and bought it and I installed it.

All 4 banks of heaters were at 21 amps while running and the blower was at 6 amps for a total amp draw of 90 amps. This morning they called in and said the fire dept. just left. I went over and found that something had caused a short on the terminal block for the electric entering the furnace and the new breaker in the panel never tripped. Thankfully he was up and heard the noise and was able to turn off the main breaker and extinguish the fire before any structural damage occurred or worse.

The main electrical panel is a FPE panel with FPE breakers. This is in a mobile home that has an electric furnace in it. Now, the short occurred before the two breakers in the furnace (service shut-off breakers that are another brand) but should have been protected by the 100amp FPE breaker which was feeding the electric to the furnace.

The service shut-off breakers, at least the one, seems to have functioning properly. The short inside the furnace actually melted a hole in the bottom of the box and a piece of a screw fell across a connection below and tripped the one breaker. However, the FPE 100amp breaker in the panel NEVER tripped. -- T to DJF by email 12/28/99

FPE Overheat, Photos, Landlord Action Letter Jan 2006 Field Report

PhotographThe following text is from a tenant's letter to his landlord, documenting the FPE Stab-Lok® hazard with text and photos of the actual panel in the subject apartment. This letter, which documents the general FPE Stab-Lok® hazard and also specific evidence found in the apartment panel, was successful in convincing the property owner of the need for prompt action. G.G. Seattle, WA, to D.F. 1/24/2006 [Edits by DJF to shorten text, preserve anonymity, and to generalize the "FPE Stab-Lok® Electric Panel/Circuit Breaker landlord action notice letter".]

[Moving into my new apartment] I spotted a 30-amp breaker in the electrical panel marked as bedroom lights. Lighting circuits and outlets generally are 20-amp and wired with 12-gauge wiring. It was over-fused which is a fire hazard. I googled Federal Pacific Electric (FPE) the maker of the panel to find if a [replacement circuit] breaker was available. [] I also noticed that the panel was missing three breaker punchouts leaving holes in the panel in which fingers could easily fit. I removed the panel cover and discovered a meltdown of a circuit breaker had previously occurred.

Federal Pacific Electric panels and circuit breakers have a very high failure rate. Their breakers can stick in the on position and not disconnect the circuit. This has probably happened in my electrical panel once before, explaining the 30-amp replacement breaker and the fact that it was relocated within the panel. Also the 240-volt breakers which are ganged together have no main disconnect breaker. FPE's ganged breakers can fail on one side but the other side can prevent breaker disconnect.

A 240-volt [main circuit] breaker [which fails to trip will allow] all of the amperage from the power pole, 1,000-amps or more, into the panel. There is nothing (no disconnect) between the panel and the pole to stop this and there is no way for a person to shut off anything manually. It will burn until it runs out of fuel and, or the wires from the pole melt and finally disconnect. This is like having 200 toasters going in the panel at once.

The Consumer Product Safety Commission found the circuit breakers defective and failed to pass their tests and have a high failure rate. FPE passed UL certification originally but later was found guilty of fraud in Superior Court in New Jersey in a class action lawsuit for rigging the certification tests. The parent company Reliance Electric stopped manufacturing the product after they purchased Federal Pacific. Reliance stated "FPE's success was due substantially if not entirely to a pattern of materially deceptive and improper practices in the manufacturing testing and sale" of its circuit breakers. I found none of the other electrical manufacturers having these problems with their panels or circuit breakers.

We need to address this electrical panel issue in immediate future. The problem is that if the circuit breakers aren't required to trip everything appears fine. If they need to trip to protect the house it may very well not do the job. It is not possible to tell from looking at the equipment that it is working properly. It is possible your house insurance may not want to pay for a fire or death related to a known electrical problem.

I'm guessing that whoever inspected the property before your purchase failed to notice the problem. The seller or person doing the engineering inspection maybe liable for failing to disclose this defect to you before you purchased the property. The previous owner was inside the panel to move, remove and replace the breaker to get the bedroom lights going again after the breaker was destroyed [so certainly this condition was known to the seller and should have been obvious to the home inspector].

I have included more information about this problem. This problem won't go away unless we act on it.

My background is networking, wiring, technical writing, and I'm a radio amateur, I've replaced the electrical panel in my home and know the NEC code fairly well. I'm not an electrician but I can spot problems readily. Thanks for your consideration of this summary.

Photo #1 shows the panel in place. Photo#2, with the cover removed, shows the panel is packed with wires which is unsafe (overcrowding).

Photo#3: a previous burned out Stab-Lok® connector visible when the panel cover is removed. This would only happen if the breaker didn't make a good connection to the stab lok connection or the breaker didn't trip. Also notice that the breaker in slot #20 (lower right) is a 30 amp circuit breaker and the wire coming from it is 12 gauge. This is overfusing of the wiring a potential fire hazard.

Photo #4 is blown up a bit to show the bus melting [arcing and overheating] from a previous breaker failure.

Photo #5: three breaker punchouts missing from the panel. I'm guessing that the circuit that was in slot #16 which arced out was moved to slot #20. I can't imagine why the punch out for breaker 14/15 was missing as well.

As a summary, the box already tried to melt down once and it was over fused as well. In addition the testing for UL Labs certification was obtained fraudulently [FPE] were convicted in NJ by the Superior Court and even Reliance Electric, Federal Pacific Electric's (FPE) parent company admitted that FPE had rigged the testing to get UL certification.

I understand the over-current problem and am running on as low a wattage as I can. So as long as I don't need over-current protection I'll be fine. Of course if I never required over-current protection I wouldn't need circuit breakers in the first place.

[[Editors's note: the following is a direct quote which may be offensive to some people. It is included here in demonstration of not only the severity of the consumer hazard but the depth of consumer frustration with government and legal authorities in this matter--DJF]
Hey why don't you send the FPE lawyer over to my place and I can mash his face right into the electrical panel while it's arcing. I guess all you get out of liars is more lies. These attorneys are just making it really bad for all of us. Japan has 5 times more engineers than the US does. The US has 7 times more lawyers than Japan does however and this may explain quite a bit.

Federal No-Trip1: FPE equipment that failed to trip

Photographs of source of short circuit also depicted.

Federal No-Trip2: FPE equipment that failed to trip

Contributed by Mark Cramer, ASHI inspector, educator, Tampa, FL.

Federal No-Trip3: FPE equipment case blowout, wire burn up

Contributed by Roger Hankey, ASHI inspector, educator, Minnesota. " The load on this circuit was a medium sized refrigerator./freezer and a counter top (est 1000w) microwave. As you can see the breaker was still ON. Hankey and Brown home inspectors, Eden Prairie, MN, technical contribution by Roger Hankey, prior chairman, Standards Committee, American Society of Home Inspectors - ASHI. 952 829-0044 - 11/06, 07/07.

[Follow up from J.A. - Looks more like a termination overheating problem than a circuit breaker problem. Looks like copper wire (green corrosion products). The wire leading away from the terminal does not show any signs of overheating - it is localized at the terminal. Also, the refrigerator & a microwave would not likely trip the breaker or overload the wiring. -- Aronstein]

Federal No-Trip4: FPE F-bus arc-melt 10/2005

Contributed by Douglas Hansen, ASHI inspector, educator, California.

Federal Pacific Electric Stab-Lok® - Electrically Caused Fire, Occupant Suffers Burns - 2009

Contributed by a professional, indentification anonymous (litigation):

FPE fire report (C) Daniel Friedman FPE fire report (C) Daniel Friedman

Our Client suffered burn injuries as a result of an electrically caused fire. There was a Federal Pacific electrical sub panel installed in the wall of her apartment. The city of Fremont Electrical Inspector confirmed that there was arcing taking place in the sub-pane land that the arcing was connected to the breaker that tripped (although he did not confirm definitively that the tripped circuit breaker fed the outlet from which the electric blanket was receiving power.)

He indicated it was possible that the circuit lead to the electrical blanket caused an overload and this would also cause excessive heat which could have ignited the bed cover material before tripping the breaker. Attached is a photograph of the panel. We have retained an electrical expert who has furnished a report. If you would want other information or photos for your research on FPE failures please let us know. [We have requested copies of the report and sharper photos -- DF.]

2011: FPE - Related House Fire Reported

Cooper Electric, serving Cincinnati OH and Northern Kentucky report a 2011 fire from which we excerpt:

On August 16, approximately 9:00 p.m., the Wyoming Fire - EMS was dispatched to a structure fi re on Chisholm Trail. The fire originated in an attached, two car garage and quickly spread to the roof of the structure. Wyoming Fire Lt. Peter Hauser, who lived four houses from the scene, struck a second alarm on his arrival less than one minute from the initial dispach. Engines 97, 297, Ladder 97, Squad 97, and Rescue 97 were dispatched on the fi rst alarm bringing 20 Wyoming fi refi ghters and medics to the scene.

Retrieved 4/8/2013 original source

2013: FPE-failure leads to serious injury to two electricians

False "off" condition at an FPE main breaker led to serious injury to two electricians (C) InspectAPedia

August 14, 2013: we received a report of a false-off failure of an FPE (Federal Pacific Electric) main circuit breaker that led to serious injury to two electrians.

A photograph of the FPE panel where the incident occurred is included at left, provided by OSHA.

Details of this incident are not [yet] reported here because of pending litigation.

However we were informed that after a main (FPE) breake was switched to the "off" position and thus power was believed to have been turned off within the electrical panel (of a commercial installation) the electricians were injured by an electrical arc explosion.

2016 Fatal Fire in Louisiana Attributed to FPE Stab-Lok Failure

By private email 2016/06/29 we received a report of a house fire fatality in Louisiana in which the fire was attributed to an FPE Federal Pacific Electric Panel. Details have been witheld pending possible legal actions. Details confirming the fire cause have not been received. - Ed.

Readers of this article should also see Federal No-Trips: Anecdotal FPE Failure Reports (separate document) Email from Electricians, Home Inspectors, Building Owners, Others - U.S. and Canada, and FPE Stab-Lok® HAZARDS & REPAIRS WEBSITE - the main FPE Hazard Website.

To report an electrical problem with this equipment see REPORT YOUR FAILURE. Readers who need to know the history of US CPSC testing and to read the government research that also confirmed failures of FPE Stab-Lok® equipment (though no product recall was issued) should see "FPE Stab-Lok® Panel Failure Research, Public documents" at our REFERENCES given at the end of this article.

Continue reading at FPE FIRES: FAILURE REPORTS or select a topic from closely-related articles below, or see our complete INDEX to RELATED ARTICLES below.


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