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Another FPE Related House Fire


Kyle Kubs
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Last evening (Nov. 29th), in Rutherford NJ, an 89 year old woman was rescued from her burning house with 3rd degree burns to her lower extremities. Initial reports were that it was an electrical fire. Initial investigation looks to be an overloaded circuit and a breaker that did not trip. I'm told from sources within that it was an FPE panel.

As this is my home town and my brother is on the fire dept there I am going to see if I can get a closer look at things and maybe a copy of the final report from the fire investigator. I'll follow up in a few days.

The house, an older balloon framed colonial, apparently went up very quickly and was a total loss. Fortunatly no one died.

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3rd degree burns...

She's lucky to survive the fire, but that has to be one of the worst possible injuries a person can suffer. I worked with a guy who had those on both arms from a house fire. His descriptions of the recovery process and the agony involved would make any normal person cringe. The poor old dear.

Kyle, I know this may not be possible, but a photo of the fried breaker box would be very compelling in combination with the report, assuming it is what they think it is. We'll all be eager to see the report.

Brian G.

FPE Hater [:-yuck]

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Unfortunately at 89 years old, with 3rd degree burns, it remains to be seen if she continues to survive both the pain and the onslaught to her immune system. The cop that went in after her said it was a surreal scene, like she was was being protected by an angel, because she was surrounded by flame all around her but like she was standing inside of a protected sphere... Hopefully that angel will stay with her a while longer.

My brother is going to talk to the fire marshal and is pretty sure he will take me in. Probably on Monday or Tuesday. I intend to get pictures if I can. I drove by today and took a look at the outside. Little round can for a meter socket, definitely an old service.

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Obviously she did not follow the CPSCs guidelines. If you don't overload FPE panel circuits and do understand what the various circuits service you'll be ok.

What I don't understand is how does the CPSC expect the homeowner to know this stuff? Once again it boils down to money, just what the recent Kentucky mandate says.

We should take up a collection to put old FPE panels in the homes of the people who write this stuff.

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  • 2 weeks later...

Just an update:

I am still working on getting into the home, the fire marshal says he has no problem bringing me in but we're being hung up by the insurance company... Of course.

The official word is that it was a failure of an overloaded breaker in an FPE panel. I'm still waiting for the official report.

The local paper of course wrote a totally lame article about this blaming the fire on "faulty wiring"...

I'm still pushing on this but it may take a little more time.

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I found out today that Ms. Helen Meyers died of her injuries a few days ago. It's very sad, especially since it was so avoidable.

With that unfortunate bit of information I did get a copy of the Twp. fire investigation report. It's fairly lame actually. Gives the cause of fire only as an unspecified short circuit arc.

Due to the severity of the damage and loss of life the County Arson squad was called in to participate in the investigation and will have a separate report. Don't know if it will say anything more but I will get a copy of it within the next week.

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They can, but so much depends on all sorts of other variables, not the least of which is the workload of the arson investigation team; if they're like everyone else, they're so overloaded, they don't have the time to figure out finely tuned specifics such as "was it the breaker connection to the bus bar?".

Often, they get close enough to the point of origin to call it an electrical fire, and that's that. In this case, since there's loss of life, they'll push pretty close, but may still simply lump it all together as an arc or breaker malfunction.

Sad, sad story.

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Originally posted by kurt

They can, but so much depends on all sorts of other variables, not the least of which is the workload of the arson investigation team; if they're like everyone else, they're so overloaded, they don't have the time to figure out finely tuned specifics such as "was it the breaker connection to the bus bar?".

Often, they get close enough to the point of origin to call it an electrical fire, and that's that. In this case, since there's loss of life, they'll push pretty close, but may still simply lump it all together as an arc or breaker malfunction.

Sad, sad story.

I'm working on a local elderly housing/rehab center that's being rebuilt after a fire that they had last year. The level of detail in the fire investigation amazed me. Here's what they learned:

One of the residents called maintenance one evening because the bath fan in his unit stopped working (the breaker tripped). The maintenance guy checked out the fan, looked for problems, found none and then re-set the breaker.

What he couldn't see was that the fan was wired in EMT and the EMT served as the equipment grounding conductor. When the resident's light went out, it was because of a short in the fan fixture. The short traveled along the EMT to a spot where a connector was loose and it caused an arc that blew away a small section of the connector. When the maintenance guy re-set the breaker, it didn't trip again because, while the short was still present in the fan, the leaking current couldn't get back to the panel because of the damaged EMT connector.

The breaker remained in the on position, the maintenance guy was satisfied that everything was ok, and the resident had a fan that worked fine except that it's shell was energized and the EMT connected to it had a small portion blown away. Oh, and the arc had caused a small spark to smolder in the concealed space between the ceiling and the roof deck. Later that night, the spark ignited and the fire spread through the attic space.

In the re-build, they're running grounding wires inside the EMT.

- Jim Katen, Oregon

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Amazing, isn't it? If the building isn't in the bsmt. (slang for totally burnt to a crisp), the arson guys can pinpoint stuff down to minute details we can't even imagine.

There's all sorts of sophisticated methods for figuring if an accelerant was used, how much, and where. They can figure out darn near anything and everything if they have the time, inclination, and some evidence to work from.

This is mildly troubling stuff, as we use EMT as the grounding conductor here in lovely Chicago. I often find conduit that's loose, recommend it's reconnection or repair, and no one seems to understand how important it is.

When I did my MBR and bathroom remodel, I ran an extra ground wire in the conduit; it just seemed prudent at the time.

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I'm sorry to hear about Ms. Meyers, but at her age and with those injuries the odds couldn't have been good to start with. It was a bad way to go, especially if it was directly caused by one of those horribly designed FPE panels. I hope the investigators will take this all the way. That's all they can do for her now.

I won't bore anyone with the long version, but I've always opposed using EMT as an equipment ground conductor. It isn't reliable; just pull one more wire and be sure.

Brian G.

Fire Is a Four Letter Word [:-grumpy]

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