A tingling in the water caused alarm for swimmers near a lakefront home northwest of Camdenton Monday afternoon.
According to Mid-County Fire Chief Scott Frandsen, people swimming in the Lake of the Ozarks around a dock at a residence in Anthony Hollow Cove, near the 1.5 mile marker of the Niangua Arm, felt a minor tingle in the water and could tell there was voltage in the water. They were able to get out of the water and call 911 without sustaining any injuries.
The Mid-County Fire Department was dispatched to the residence on Stonebraker Driver around 4 p.m., according to a press release from the MCFPD. With many of the firefighters tied up with a commercial structure fire incident at the time, the fire prevention division responded to Stonebraker. When the assistant fire marshal arrived on scene, it was confirmed that there was electric in the water.
The source was determined to be a neighbor’s dock from an electrical wire broken at the waterline.
The fire department was unable to make contact with the homeowner. The house, according to Frandsen, did not appear to be well lived in.
“We called Laclede Electric to shut off the whole house. It was an old dock with no separate disconnect, and you know, we can’t enter a house to look for breakers,” Frandsen said.
The dock was an older one that has never had to undergo inspection by the fire district, according to Frandsen. Local ordinances only require inspections of electrical systems on existing docks when there are modifications made or they are being sold. New docks must also be inspected.
Power was to the entire residence was disconnected awaiting the unknown arrival of the owner and repair of the electric problem on the dock.
With the summer temperatures and the return of swim weather, here are 5 things to keep in mind for swimming and dock electrical safety at Lake of the Ozarks.
1. Call the pros.
While certain fire districts along the Lake have dock electrical codes, an inspection by the fire district is only mandated for new and modified docks and docks that have been moved. But that is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to dock maintenance and safety. If you’ve just purchased a property with a dock, are unsure about the status of your dock’s wiring for any reason or know you need to have some work done, call a qualified electrician. Get proof that they’re bonded and insured and ask them some basic questions about their qualifications and experience in dock work, such as how many docks they wire in a year and whether docks are the main focus of their business. Find out their success rate in dock inspections by the fire districts - does their work typically pass on the first inspection or do they have to do a lot of re-inspections.
2. Test regularly.
That qualified electrician should install or ensure that there is a ground fault circuit interrupter (GFCI) in the dock’s electrical system. A GFCI is the automatic safety shut-off of the electrical system when if something goes bad in the wiring, but the GFCI too can go bad. Buy a GFCI tester for $8-$15 and test the interrupter regularly to make sure it’s working - at least once a month. If the GFCI is tripping the breaker - automatically turning off the system - do not turn it back on. There is a reason the circuit was tripped. Again, get a qualified electrician to find the problem and fix it.
3. Be an inspector.
Even testing the GFCI on a regular basis, you should visually inspect your dock at least once a month and even once a week depending on how rough the water is. If it’s been a bad day or weekend for rough water, check it again. Look at all the pivot points of the wiring and make sure conduits are intact and not rubbed through to bare wire. Make sure there aren’t any wires hanging down into the water. In fact, anytime someone is going to get in the water near a dock with electricity, there should be some level of situational awareness - conscious thought about how the dock and wiring is looking. And these rules also apply generally to an awareness of how your neighbors’ docks look.
4. The lowdown on voltage meters
A voltage meter that goes in the water and sounds an alarm if current is detected can be a backup, but officials are hesitant to recommend them as they can create a false sense of security. These devices can malfunction. If a dock owner decides to invest in one, whether it’s locally or nationally made, the device needs to be certified to meet national safety standards. Underwriters Laboratory is the most common testing entity. Look for the official UL marking on the product which shows that is has been tested by UL to ensure the product will work and not give false information.
5. Shut it down.
If there’s any doubt, shut the electricity off. Even if things appears in good shape, it doesn’t hurt to shut off the electricity while people are swimming nearby. No electricity is in reality the only guarantee against getting shocked in the water. If you have a dock that was installed before codes, it may not have a disconnect at the shoreline to facilitate turning off the electricity to the dock. A shoreline disconnect is required under current codes and are highly recommended for grandfathered docks. If you’re in the water and feel a tingle, immediately move away from the dock. Do not try to get to the disconnect yourself. Swim away from the shore and yell for help. Get somebody on land to shut off power to the dock - or multiple docks if it’s unclear which one is causing the problem. You can get help in shutting off multiple docks by calling 911. Have life safety devices near the dock and make sure there are people on land who know you’re in the water and can help.