Lake area fire protection districts with dock electrical codes are considering adding new requirements that would bring more docks into the inspection process and may make codes more stringent as they look to update dock regulations to the 2011 National Electric Code.
Mid County Fire Marshal Chris Bachman, Sunrise Beach Fire Marshal Bobby Northcott, Gravois Fire Chief Ed Hancock and Ameren Missouri Shoreline Management Supervisor Jeff Green all spoke on dock electrical regulations and safety at an Eggs & Issues gathering of the three area chambers of commerce — Lake West, Camdenton and Lake Area — held Tuesday morning at Cannon Smoked Saloon in Sunrise Beach. The informational forum was sponsored by Poly Lift.
Area fire protection districts with dock electrical codes are mulling a step up in regulation referred to by Bachman as "phase 2" of dock electrical codes — phase one being the basic implementation of the codes and inspection program Jan. 1, 2006 for new docks, used docks that are moved to a new location and modifications of docks that includes any rewiring.
One of the items being considered is to add to what docks are required to meet code. Districts may require a dock inspection when there is a transfer of ownership.
The Osage Beach Fire Protection District Board of Directors has already moved forward with this change. It will be implemented starting Sept. 1. Once completed, an inspection prior to the transfer will be good for one year to give time for the sale to go through.
Generally, districts in the lake area with building and dock codes make changes in unison to keep requirements the same in order to cut down on confusion among contractors and property owners.
Bachman said Mid County will likely hold public hearings on proposed changes at some point to see where and how far the public wants them to move on this issue.
"We're not going to phase two unless it's public driven," he said.
If the proposal does become code, he advised realtors to think of it like having a home inspection — get it done early when it first becomes a listing — in order to avoid problems at the last minute with the closing. Bachman also said there may be a provision that would allow any follow-up fixes to an inspection to be done after closing as long as the new owner is made aware of the issues found in the inspection and takes responsibility for getting the deficiencies fixed.
If all fire protection districts with dock electrical codes adds the transfer of ownership provision, Green estimated it would bring a few hundred more docks into the permitting process each year.
Ameren sees about 500-600 transfers related to docks each year, Green said, but not all of those docks are within a district with code enforcement.
Page 2 of 3 - While Osage Beach is currently the only agency in the area requiring inspection upon transfer of ownership, Green recommended realtors start having dock inspections when they get a listing and not wait for fire department requirements.
"With as bright a light as we're shined on this, everybody is responsible," Green said.
Three electrocutions at the Lake of the Ozarks last year led to heightened awareness of electrical safety on docks. Though the initial emotion of the tragedies has faded, officials are continuing to follow up on dock safety and preventative measures.
With a large transient population from new homeowners at the Lake, Green asked realtors at the forum help educate newcomers about dock inspections and getting deficiencies fixed.
Emergency dock calls from potential electrical hazards are continuing to occur, according to Northcott. There have just not been any deaths as a result. He has responded to six emergency dock calls in the last month.
Codes or no codes, all area fire departments will respond to emergency calls of concern that there is a hazard or potential hazard from a dock.
If there is current in the water, firefighters will stay at the site until the problem is identified. If a dock is deemed hazardous, the electricity is shut off and officials must receive a plan from the owner to get the dock into compliance within 30 days or potentially face a maximum $4,000 fine. Ameren can also pull the permit if the owner refuses to comply.
"We have gone and got docks especially if there's a life safety issue," Green said.
Requiring both lights and outlets to be protected by a ground fault circuit interruptor is another possible change that may be coming, according to Bachman.
After a conference with area electricians earlier in the year, the electricians suggested the more stringent requirement and approved of the upgrade to the 2011 version of dock codes. Currently only the outlets are required to be GFCI-protected.
It should be noted that there are around 25,000 docks on the Lake of the Ozarks with less than half of them estimated to fall under code requirements.
Gravois Fire does not have dock codes - not for lack of wanting to, said Hancock, but due to financial limitations.
He advised residents of the district who believe codes are needed to contact one of the board members to let them know their concern.
Another issue in dock safety is that not all docks lie within a district that can implement regulations. Coffman Bend Fire Department is a membership association and does not have the authority to adopt a code.
Overall, Hancock said dock safety is not just an inspection issue but an awareness issue.
Page 3 of 3 - Even with proposed changes, an inspection is done once and then is on its own for an indefinite period of time until or if it again falls under one of the requirements for an inspection.
During that time, things can still wrong on a dock even if it at some point passed inspection. GFCIs can go bad; a homeowner can make a small change on their own; wave action can rub through wire over time.
Dock owners must be vigilant in testing GFCIs and checking the wires on a regular basis. And if they spot a problem or potential problem, they need to get it fixed, Hancock said.
If you're swimming in the Lake and think you're getting shocked, Bachman reminded people to swim out into the channel away from all docks and yell for help for a passing boater to pick you up or get someone on shore to call 911. Do not attempt to get out of the water on any dock until it has been determined which one is causing the problem and the problem is resolved.