The dock inspection process is working as designed and as state law allows, according to code officials, but was not enough to prevent the three electrocutions over the week of the July 4 holiday. None of the docks involved in the recent tragic incidents would have triggered the inspection process as it is set up, according to Gravois Fire Chief Ed Hancock.
Ameren and area fire district code officials met Tuesday morning for a round table discussion on the issue of dock inspections after two children were electrocuted July 4 swimming near a dock at the 6.5 mile marker of the Gravois Arm and a woman was electrocuted July 7 swimming near a dock at the 4 mile marker of the Lake at Dry Branch Cove.
Faulty wiring on nearby docks was blamed for the electrical current in the water and subsequent deaths. In the investigation of the July 4 incident, the Highway Patrol found that the dock was found to not have a ground fault circuit interrupter (GFCI).
The docks in question were constructed prior to 2006, said Hancock, and so were grandfathered and did not fall under the authority of Ameren's dock inspection process or any local fire protection district implemented codes.
Currently, an inspection is required on new docks, relocated docks or when there are major changes in the electrical system of a dock. There are no periodic re-inspections.
According to Hancock, some of the ideas discussed to try to prevent more such incidents included public education, county codes, electrician certification and changes to state law to allow for re-inspections.
Ameren has electrical installation requirements, a wiring diagram and a checklist for docks available by going to the Lake of the Ozarks link through Ameren Missouri from www.ameren.com. An electrical permit is required as part of a new dock permit.
In areas that don't have codes, homeowners can get the information and have a qualified electrician go through it and sign off on it to get a new dock permitted. But there is no certification process for electricians in Missouri, begging the question of what constitutes a qualified electrician, Hancock said.
One idea from the meeting was that Ameren create a process to certify dock electricians similar to how they certify dock builders.
Part of the problem, however, lies in the many variables that a dock and its wiring is open to.
"Today, it could be fine. Then in two hours, water and wind conditions can change and create a 'perfect storm,' if you want to use that term, and cause something to go bad. Or something that wasn't running on that dock or a neighbor's dock during the inspection could change something. Not everything is happening a certain way when an inspection is done. There could also be a grounding problem at the house," Hancock said. "Marine electrical is a different animal. There are so many variables. In reality if I inspect a dock today, my inspection is good until I can no longer see that dock. As soon as I leave, things can change."
Page 2 of 2 - The fire districts and Ameren are encouraging homeowners to not only make sure they have ground fault breakers for their docks but also to test them regularly. GFCI's have a test button or you can also get a tester.
"Some of these docks have been around 20-30 years and have never had anything done to them. If they're not exercised periodically, how do you know they work?" Hancock said.
Fire districts do not have the code authority to force additional inspections after the initial inspection at the time of construction or a remodel, according to Hancock.
"That limits us some to what we can adopt. If they want to get really aggressive, it needs to come from the state and county level. We can't do a comprehensive code," he said.
One idea that was discussed, but that would take state legislation, would be to require inspections every so many years similar to how cars must be inspected, Hancock said.
For re-inspections to be mandated, the authority to do so would have to be designated and the process and enforcement would need to be funded.