There's been a lot said over the years about FPE. 99% of what's been said has been little more than a re-hash of the same old New York Consumer's agency report - a report very, very limited in scope, and not confirmed by other parties.
Well, the latest issue of Electrical Contractor Magazine (Nov 2015) has the first NEW information I've seen in ages.
An article ("The Whistleblower," page 80) details the activities by Jim Meachum, an engineer who briefly worked for FPE. Jim documented various fraudulent activities, attempted to address them within FPE, and left in disgust.
The article does not tell us WHEN Mr. Meachum acted, but it does reference a 1955 legal action between UL and FPE.
Apart from the actions of FPE, this drama -MY opinion only- calls into question the integrity of UL and it's processes. It appears UL knew, for decades, that FPE was dishonest. Somehow UL's own in-house testing failed to identify FPE's issues ... or, if it did, the responses were inadequate and concealed.
It's revealing that, despite having defeated every regulatory safeguard, FPE was brought to heel by ordinary market forces. Folks simply stopped buying them as FPE's reputation withered.
There are two lessons in this tale.
The first is that it is folly to rely upon codes, standards, testing, and bureaucrats to protect us.
The second is: you can't beat a free market for keeping things in line.
That's something to consider, as the main effect of codes, standards, and bureaucracies is to interfere with the operation of the free market.
Absent the assurance provided by the UL sticker, FPE would have folded decades earlier. The 'system' failed.
The thing I have not heard is whether the FPE problem was bad engineering or simply a manufacturing problem and how many bad units may have been made. Everything seems to be purely anecdotal. I do agree, the bad rep killed the product and home inspectors will tag every one they see.
THAT's why I recommend folks go to their site and read the article. It's the first 'new' info, the first report I've seen that has not simply been a re-hash of old news.
With this in mind, it's rather disappointing that the IAEI published a rebuttal from FPE a few years back. I am sure that would not have happened had the editors been aware of the decades-long legal history surrounding FPE's corporate dishonesty.
There's been quite a bit of PR lately about 'counterfeit' parts. Looks to me we have no reason to trust the 'real' parts either.
It matters not whether the problem was an 'engineering' or 'manufacturing' issue. The only thing that matters is the systematic fraud instituted from the top to deceive everyone.
Just as important ... since UL clearly knew that FPE was deceptive ... I have to ask just how UL's in-house testing failed to discover these issues. I have to wonder about the inspections UL performed at the plant. I'd be very surprised if the 'whistleblower' did not also contact UL- to no avail.
To me, that makes UL very much part of the problem. I have to wonder what else UL has been hiding.
Anecdotal in the sense that there were reports of breakers not tripping at the rated over current. Reliance Electric (purchased FPE after the bad breakers were made) actually reported this themselves. What I haven't heard is that there was an investigation of where that breaker was made and if there was a bad manufacturing process, quality control process etc or whether the design was flawed. In Canada these breakers do not carry the stigma. That is why I think it may be a manufacturing flaw and may not have lasted that long. I agree there has been a huge lack of transparency around the issue. Federal may have known there was a bad batch of breakers and they could not establish good parameters of how long they were being made badly so they stonewalled the issue.
I do believe the ones submitted to U/L did meet the criteria but somewhere along the line they made a bunch that didn't. I don't even think we can blame China for this one.
CPSC actually backed off after a while.
The Consumer Product Safety Commission announced today that it is closing its two year investigation into Federal Pacific Electric Stab-lok type residential circuit breakers. This action was taken because the data currently available to the Commission does not establish that the circuit breakers pose a serious risk of injury to consumers
At this point the bad breakers are almost 40 years old so simply getting rid of them is not an unreasonable way to go.
Connecticut Electric does make a replacement but that would depend on how you feel about "classified" breakers. Panel replacement is probably the safest option but it might be a hard sell if the user is not adding capacity or feeling imminent fear.
FPE was a popular install here in NJ, as probably in many other areas. Yes, there are still many FPE panels around here. Have I personally known of any issues with FPE, No.
The 'Home Inspectors' have a favorite "Bad Boy" with FPE panels, at resale time. Some reports state 'dangerous', others state "illegal".
I get calls from homeowners that are selling, wanting to know..."Is the panel illegal" or 'do I have to change it to be 'code'".
Short answer, no, I cannot say it has to be changed to be 'code'; as it was inspected and approved when it was installed. I may add that it is difficult to find replacement breakers, IF any additional circuits are to be installed.
Most are replaced either before closings, or when the new owner takes possession of the home. Some just survive, until work is being done and the DIY finds out there are no AFCI breakers available.
As to the past issues with who did what at the factory, it seems that is beating a dead horse.