Video: Federal Pacific Circuit Breakers Investigation Finds Decades of Danger [NBC Bay Area]

The following video that aired on NBC Bay Area shows the dangers of leaving older Zinsco and Federal Pacific circuit breakers (aka electrical panels, breaker boxes” or fuse panels) in your home. Be sure to check your panel to see if it is one of these older models and if so — get it inspected right away (remember that we offer free electrical panel inspections). Your family’s health and safety could depend on it!

Video Transcript

(Note: Video is sole property of NBC Bay Area)

Raj Mathai:  They are critical to the safety of our homes and they’re designed to prevent fires, not cause them. Tonight, the NBC Bay Area investigative unit has uncovered problems with circuit breakers in thousands of Bay Area homes.

Jessica Aguirre: The chief investigative reporter Tony Kovaleski is here with the details. And Tony you discovered it’s been really a long history a problems.

Tony Kovaleski: There have. Jess, Raj; it’s supposed to make everyone safer but but this circuit breaker has a long history of failing. For decades the Consumer Product Safety Commission is known about the problems but there has been no recall.

Geoff Williams: It lit up cherry red.

Voice over: He’s a master electrician.

Geoff Williams: And it lit up the crawl space like the gates of hell. It could have killed me.

Voice over: Remembering a morning back in 1979, working a crawlspace under a Bay Area house.

Geoff Williams: At the roll, an approach I pay on my hands and knees through the small opening from the crawlspace shut off Manny with the panel on fire spitting flame on my face

Voice over: He blames a faulty circuit breaker – a Federal Pacific stablok breaker.

Geoff Williams: I’ve seen so many fires. I’ve seen so many places burned by the panels. It’s frightening to me every time I see it over and over again.

Voice over: Circuit breakers are designed to prevent fires. When working properly, they stop the flow of electricity following excessive demand or a short circuit. Today, Federal Pacific circuit breakers are in millions of homes nationwide, including hundreds of thousands of Bay Area houses. They’re most commonly found in homes built before 1990.

Jesse Aronstein: The breaker is a safety device that is supposed to prevent fires. If it doesn’t work as required, you get an increased risk of fire.

Voice over:Jesse Aronstein is an expert on Federal Pacific circuit breakers. He’s an engineer; he spent more than 20 years researching the problem and he has testified in lawsuits against the now defunct company.

Jesse Aronstein: There’s no inconsistency and no dispute as to the fact that they are defective.

Voice over: Aronstein says test by the Consumer Product Safety Commission and a number of other credible labs all proved Federal Pacific breakers are not reliable.

Tony Kovaleski: This is a Federal Pacific breaker

Voice over: So how does it fail? Watch closely.

We had a Federal Pacific circuit breaker tested at this lab in Berkeley

We started

Voice over:  It’s a 60m breaker – the same as you find in many homes. We’ve doubled the current it is rated to handle that means it should trip in less than two minutes.

Bernard Cuzzillo:  For about a minute and 10 seconds now, and there’s smoke coming out of the breaker. There’s a definite smoke coming out.

Voice over:  The lab cut away some of the plastic sidings so you can have a closer look. An aesthetic change that experts say will not alter the functionality of the breaker.

Tony Kovaleski: We are almost four minutes and its smoking and it hasn’t trip. Why not?

Bernard Cuzzillo:  I because the mechanical mechanism that is supposed to be tripping the breaker is stuck.

Voice over:  It raises many questions how can a defective circuit breaker pass federal inspections? How did they comply with federal Electric Code and receive this UL stamp of approval? And, how did a known defective product get into millions of homes?

Jesse Aronstein: FPE he was cheating on the testing and applying a label to product that was defective did not meet the requirements.

Voice over:  An accusation of cheating that is supported by this document obtained by NBC Bay Area. It’s a 1982 SEC filing from the company that purchased Federal Pacific. Look closely it reads:

                  “UL listings on circuit breakers made by Federal Pacific have previously been obtained through the use of deceptive or improper practices.”

According to this respected expert, Federal Pacific tricked government inspectors by using a hidden remote control to force the breaker to trip, if it was not tripping properly.

Jesse Aronstein:  They represent an abnormal hazard that should be replaced.

Voice over: And take a look at this internal document we obtained from Bay Area Rapid Transit. It shows BART also had electrical equipment problems with Federal Pacific. It reads:

                  “There have been two instances have failures with the all the Federal Pacific Electric secondary distribution panels.”

And it goes on to say “failure this all the equipment has caused delays to BART train service and create a potentially unsafe conditions.”

BART replaced the Federal Pacific equipment.

Daniel Schmidt:  To protect all the burgers out of it from the wires over here, new breakers. That’s the story.

Voice over:  And homeowner Daniel Schmidt also decided to remove Federal Pacific from his home’s electrical system removing the risk from East Bay home.

Daniel Schmidt: I know it’s going to be safer. It’s a panel with got quite a reputation.

Bernard Cuzzillo:  So this breaker is so hot that it’s smoking. It will not trip.

Daniel Schmidt: You cannot run the risk of having breakers that might malfunction.

Tony Kovaleski: The Consumer Product Safety Commission tested the Federal Pacific breakers back in the 80s at legal challenges then followed the CPSC never forced to recall. Some believe the CPSC did not have the budget for that legal fight. Now we spoke with the Bay Area attorney representing the defunct Federal Pacific company, she declined a request to comment on the investigation.

Now this is interesting Jesse Aronstein believes failures with Federal Pacific circuit breakers are responsible for two thousand fires nationwide each year. Many undetected by fire departments because they don’t drill down that deep.

Jessica Aguirre: Okay, so I know where the circuit breakers are my house but how can I figure out if those are this Federal Pacific ones.

Tony Kovaleski: I brought this one along to show you. This is a Federal Pacific circuit breaker. Generally, you can tell if it has this unique orange front on the on the very beginning.

Jessica Aguirre: Okay.

Tony Kovaleski:  Also, it’ll have a staff market; may say and have that label there. Now, we have put together a video demonstrating with an expert, who will take you through step-by-step to check to see if you have a breaker like this made by Federal Pacific in your home.  You can find it at our website at so something to take a close look at how many many homes in the Bay Area may have these inside.

Jessica Aguirre:  That’s definitely something you want to go outside look at.

Raj Mathai: Thank you, Tony.

Raj Mathai:  Thank you, Tony.  A lot of people will be checking. If you have a tip for investigative unit, give us a call. You see the numbers right in front of your screen 1-888-996-TIPS or send us an email directly to

Important Questions You Should Ask Your Electrician

Santa Rosa Electricians 947 Yuba Dr Santa Rosa, CA 95407There are specific inquiries anyone should make of an electrician while they’re there doing work. Doing so can help to make your home more secure and help you save money at the same time. An experienced electrician will be quite knowledgeable concerning all electric items and wiring in your home. When you have one of the many electricians Santa Rosa offers over to work in your home, keep in mind the following questions to ask while (s)he is there regarding the electricity in your home and how it functions.

One question you ought to ask your electrician is just how safe the electrical wiring is inside your home, and whether there is anything that you can do to improve the electrical security in your home. The quality of the electrical wiring in your home is important in your home’s overall safety, and therefore something you should definitely be concerned with. The electrical contractor will help you understand if there is anything to worry about (frayed or exposed wires, non-grounded outlets, missing GFIs, old or outdated electrical panels or breakers, etc.) and exactly what you ought to do to repair the issue. Something that people don’t think to ask an electrician is whether there is anything you could be doing to help reduce your electric bill. This is a simple inquiry to make, but asking the question might end up helping you save hundreds or even thousands of dollars over the course of the year on your electrical costs.

Another question you might ask your electrician is whether they think your residence is safe from earthquakes, storms and various other types of natural disasters. Catastrophe-proof residences are rather popular nowadays and especially in parts of the world that have particularly bad weather conditions during certain times of the year. Your electrician might be able to assist you discover resources that can make you home a great deal safer from natural disasters. Still another thing to consider asking your electrical contractor is about your electrical outlets / receptacles and if they should be switched out. Many older houses might have aged electrical wiring and require all the sites and receptacles changed. The lights may additionally need updating in some cases, and the electrician should be able to tell you this as well.

You could ask your electrician about other methods to conserve money around your home. Running one home appliance at a time is better then operating two appliances at a time, and sometimes it is better to be running certain appliances only during particular times of the day when the rates are cheapest. This kind of advice could very well help decrease your electric costs significantly each month. The electrician might tell you to unplug and shut down products that you are not utilizing, or products that can help you achieve this effect. This is still another great way to cut down on your electrical power usage. There are lots of ideas for your house that an electrical contractor could be able to provide you with. This kind of information is also often complimentary if they are already working on a job at your home — just remember to be respectful of their time.

When you ask the right questions, it makes it easier to find the right electrical contractor to help out with electrical jobs at your at home.