Label your breakers now!


Old 12-20-06, 06:59 AM
Thread Starter
Join Date: Oct 2005
Location: Milwaukee WI
Posts: 1,338
Label your breakers now!

racraft, could I persuade you to quote this article when you are pressing the fight against unlabeled breakers? It supports your assertion that it might save a life someday.


(relevant excerpts quoted under fair use provision)
Dec 19, 5:03 PM EST

Electrical Short Preceded Fatal Mo. Fire

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. (AP) -- Hours before a deadly fire at a group home, a maintenance man intentionally short-circuited some wiring to cut off power while he worked on the furnace, investigators said in a report issued Tuesday.
The maintenance man [Name deleted by moderator], told an investigator he used pliers to stick a wire into an outlet in order to trip the circuit breaker and cut off the power while he worked on the furnace Nov. 26. The wiring ran through the attic.
[The maintenance man] said he did not know which circuit breaker in the electrical box led to the furnace.


Last edited by ArgMeMatey; 12-20-06 at 12:14 PM. Reason: To correct punctuation errors resulting from name removal.
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Old 12-20-06, 07:43 AM
Join Date: Sep 2004
Location: Saint Louis
Posts: 259
Wow. For every post we get on someone hacking away on commercial electric, here is a great example of someone that will be going to prison for their actions.

When you're endangering those outside your home, you've crossed the line of DIY work.
Old 12-20-06, 08:03 AM
Join Date: Aug 2005
Posts: 2,268
Incredible... when for $20 you can buy a circuit finder that will identify which breaker goes to which circuit.
Old 12-20-06, 08:18 AM
itsunclebill's Avatar
Join Date: Jan 2006
Location: Denver, CO area
Posts: 221
There is no question an unlabeled panel is a safety issue.

There is also no question that the actions of the maintenance man should not have caused a fire as a properly installed and functioning circuit breaker would have tripped either from the actions of the maintenance man or from a circuit fault.

The real culprit here, from the article is {an electrical short or overload in "makeshift" wiring in the attic}. The maintenance man, if responsible at all, likely only affected the when, and not if, a fire happened. The point is that the maintenance man duplicated what could have been an equipment failure that would have had the same outcome.

The fact is in the real world that unless you have complete control of the panel, like owning the house it is installed in, the labeling is often meaningless as people who follow up often don't bother to record and label changes in a panel. While it is a fact a labeled breaker would have been turned off it is often a fact of life they aren't labeled or are labeled incorrectly, and the maintenance man's method is often used as opposed to flippling breakers that may be tied to critical equipment.

While I agree panel labeling is important it doesn't hold a candle to passing enforcing laws that require a licensed electrician to do installations in all but private residences. The caviler attitude about what constitutes a "repair" needs to be addressed as well. The owners of any public building that allows unqualified persons to do electrical work should be held accountable by enforced jail time and fines. Unfortunately, until laws get some teeth incidents such as the OP cites are going to continue. Even more unconscionable is the fact most of the group homes operate at a profit while patients get ignored and plant falls down around them.
Old 12-20-06, 09:29 AM
Join Date: Dec 2005
Location: USA
Posts: 3,188
Right on the money once again Bill. While the maintenance guy did something stupid (he should have walked away until the owners of the building could tell him which breaker), it should not have caused a fire.

Correctly labeled breakers is an important part of a home's electrical system, but it isn't a replacement for common sense. During an emergency ("honey that outlet is smoking") reading through a list of 40 or more breakers to find the right one isn't going to be easy. Breaker labels have limited space and in the case of GP circuits, they probably don't cover all the bases. Better to know how to kill all power to the house and sort out the correct breaker after the emergency has passed.
Old 12-20-06, 09:34 AM
Join Date: Aug 2004
Location: NA
Posts: 1,065
I can't add to unclebills words as he pretty much said what I would have posted ...he did a better job than I could have.... so I wont be redundant. I would like to request that the maintenance mans name be removed as he has not been convicted of anything and this makes him look as if he was responsible, that remains to be determined. I have followed this event quite closely as it isnt far from my locale. I can only imagine how this man would feel if he is exonerated as to the cause of the fire and we have him appearing to be responsible for death for all those people.
I believe the point here is to reinforce Bob's strong feelings about having breakers labeled. This may have prevented the foolish act of shorting the wires but would not necessarily have prevented the fire as unclebill wisely pointed out.

Old 12-20-06, 09:54 AM
mattison's Avatar
Join Date: Mar 2003
Location: Cinti, OH
Posts: 5,549
That's a tragity for sure. I am a Chief Engineer with several maintenance guys under me. If I was to hear of that type of neglegence going on the person would be dealt with immediatly. A large part of his error is common sense and the other is training. Upon reading about it the place in question apparently is operated by a shady character to begin with, so I'm sure he didn't hire the sharpest crayon in the box to be his maintenance man. There is no excuse for that type of work practice. There are many ways to trace a circuit and that is not one of them.

**Note: I removed the guys name from the open forum although it's in the news report.
Old 12-20-06, 10:35 AM
Join Date: Aug 2004
Location: NA
Posts: 1,065
Thanks for considering my request. I certainly have no sympathy for his method for finding that breaker. The media doesnt really care about waiting for the facts to be discovered or the harm it may cause to the families...its just news for them. Unfortunately he isnt the first person that has shorted wiring to find a breaker. I think in everybodies career in the building and electrical industries have at one time or another have been told why not just short the wiring....just stick your channel locks in there. Sad but all too true. I think the more important issue here is what Mattison stated is that these places and others have no hiring qualifications or training in place to insure their maintenance men are qualified. And very few have supervision that knows squat about what a person should know to be qualified. So there in lies the root problem find somebody that is half-way handy that will work for ten bucks or less and hour and your good to go with him.
On the other side of the coin I've seen some highly paid tradesmen do the same thing to "pop" the breaker over the years so the solution to these type trageties is rather complicated. I would have to add however that the possibility is greatly reduced if the person performing the work is skilled at what he is doing.

Old 12-20-06, 10:37 AM
william tell's Avatar
Join Date: Sep 2006
Posts: 176
Yes , shorting a circuit out to turn it off is an extremely bad practice. Unforunatly some folks think it is an easy solution to find a breaker. I have seen too many bad outcomes to ever repeat it

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