(Editor’s Note: This is the second of two articles about issues that have been at the forefront of discussion and public meetings recently. The first was fire safety last week, and this week it’s dock electrical safety.)
Angela Anderson remembers it this way.
Her two children crawled into bed with her and her husband, Brian, on a warm, summer July 4 morning in 2012. An hour later, they were swimming off their dock and were enjoying themselves. In a matter of a second, Alexandra, then 13, and Brayden, 7, were floating in the water dead.
“In the role of a wake, my kids went from living to being dead,” she recalls. “I don’t understand how many more people have to die or be hurt before something is done.”
Alexandra and Brayden weren’t electrocuted. They died of complications related to electricity flowing through the water from a nearby faulty dock and were subsequently shocked and drowned. Three years later in June, a 21-year-old Illinois man died the same way.
Those deaths spurred a rush to coordinate dock electrical inspections involving Ameren Missouri, fire districts and municipalities whose boundaries touched the Lake. Area officials learned that docks were not regulated by the same sets of rules, that regulations were often interpreted differently and in some cases docks weren’t even being inspected for electrical safety.
Jeff Green, Ameren Missouri shoreline manager, says there are about 5,000 docks that do not fall under the jurisdiction of any participating fire district. Of the estimated 25,000 docks on the Lake, 20,000 are regulated to some degree.
The deaths of the Anderson children spawned a lawsuit against Ameren Missouri. The suit claimed the utility company was at fault because by permitting docks it also assumed responsibility for dock electrical safety. The court eventually ruled in favor of Ameren.
The tragedy also pushed the Andersons to address the issue through legislation — The Alexandra and Brayden Electric Shock Drowning Prevention Act. The bill has failed to garner much support in the Missouri legislature.
State Reps. Rocky Miller, Diane Franklin and David Wood recently hosted a Listening Post in Osage Beach to hear concerns and ideas about dock electrical issues, fire safety, and problems caused by large wakes on the Lake.
Ameren Missouri has partnered with fire districts since 2006 in inspecting and permitting docks. But it’s docks outside of the participating districts that concern Green.
“There are thousands of docks in those areas that are not being inspected, and certainly the responsibility for having those docks inspected falls back on the dock owner,” Green said recently. “In areas inside and outside of the first districts, dock owners are wholly responsible for maintaining an electrically safe dock.”
An emphasis today among electric cooperatives and power companies is getting the right messages to the public. There are many times after a dock has been inspected, Green said, that it can fall into disrepair quickly due to wave action or other circumstances. Dock owners need to be diligent in inspecting GFCIs (ground fault circuit interrupters), making sure docks are properly grounded and bonded, he said.
Dock owners need to be proactive in making sure their dock electrical systems are properly functioning, especially after the highway water last summer. Green urges dock owners to have their docks professionally inspected each spring.
“A big piece in the education process is communicating with the public the importance of electrical safety. Just because you have a dock inspected one day doesn’t mean you won’t have a problem the next day,” Green explained.
He said Ameren supports statewide that would that improve the safety of the Lake of the Ozarks.
Lake-area Realtors say they also have stepped forward in an attempt to encourage electrically safe docks.
Karen McFarland, a local Realtor, says that when her company sells a house agents make sure the dock is safe and up to code before a transaction is complete.
“It isn’t always realistic that the fire district can get there before a sale is complete,” she said
Wondering aloud why thousands of docks remain uninspected, or why some fire districts choose not to inspect docks, McFarland suggested that every fire department should participate and that every dock on the water be inspected.
“If a dock has a permit, it needs to be inspected. A fire district should be able to provide inspections, and if it can’t keep up with the demand then turn inspections over to the private sector,” she suggested.
Inspections are not static, and docks and their electrical systems are destroyed every year.
Lynn Ferrell, another local Realtor, says her company writes into each real estate contract that any dock has to be inspected whether the dock is within a fire district or not.
“Realtors have been given the job of policing this, and I don’t know a Realtor who doesn’t write into a contract that a dock needs to be inspected and brought up to code before the sale is complete,” she said.
Alexandra & Brayden Anderson
Electric Shock Drowning Prevention Act
The bill, which has failed to advance during previous legislative sessions, would require that each vessel operated by the State Water Patrol within the Department of Public Safety to be equipped with an automated external defibrillator and be staffed by at least one individual trained in the use of an automated external defibrillator. The bill would require every patrol officer assigned to the division to be trained in rescuing victims of electrocution injuries around marina and boat docks and the use of an automated external defibrillator on the victim.
This bill also would establish that any individual or entity that owns any body of water with a boat dock or marina equipped with electrical power must ensure that each boat dock or marina be in compliance with the National Fire Protection Association's 2011 edition of the Fire Protection Standard for Marinas and Boatyards.