(WMC-TV) - Circuit breakers and panels that are potential fire hazards remain in millions of homes nationwide, even though both government and private lab tests have confirmed the devices can be defective.
The now-defunct Federal Pacific Electric (FPE) company manufactured circuit breakers and panels from the 1950s through the 1980s. Like all circuit breakers, they are supposed to 'trip' and shut down an electrical current when they are overloaded.
Nathan Harmeier, electrician and owner of Above & Beyond Electric Co., Inc., in Bartlett/Ellendale, arranged a test with a FPE breaker panel he removed from a customer's home.
He purposely overloaded a 30-amp double-pole breaker with 43 amps of power from four space heaters. For both safety and test purposes, he also ran the power through a back-up breaker panel, designed by another manufacturer.
A half-dozen times -- after several minutes of overheating -- the back-up breaker tripped, but each time, the FPE breaker failed to trip the overloaded wire.
"Eventually, that wire is going to heat up and burn up," Harmeier said. "They're not tripping, and I wouldn't want them in my home."
Investigative reports from local news stations all over the country -- San Francisco to New York, East Texas to Orlando -- have pinned an untold number of house fires on FPE's breakers and panels, particularly its Stab-Lok breakers.
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