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Dock Dangers: Dock inspection process uneven

Dock permits at the Lake of the Ozarks are required, but not all inspections are done the same way.


Thursday afternoon, the Rocky Mount Fire Protection District posted this on their facebook page:


"We have a very dangerous situation going on, with the high water a lot of electronic services are under water. Please turn the electricity off to your dock until the water goes down. You should think about having a dock inspection after the water goes down."


Since 2012, four people in the Missouri State Highway Patrol's Troop F coverage area have died due to electric shock drownings.


Less than two weeks ago, on June 21st, a 21-year-old man was shocked by electricity and drowned at the Lake of the Ozarks.


Saturday, July 4th, will mark the third anniversary of the deaths of Alexandra and Brayden Andersonâ?¦ the mid-Missouri brother and sister, who drowned after they too were shocked at the Lake.


Dock permits at the Lake of the Ozarks are required, but not all inspections are done the same way.


In fact, some aren't done at all.


We spoke with local officials about why that is, and how you can protect your family from dock dangers.


"That affects me in a way that no other accident scene has ever affected me," Codes official Adam Rohwer with the Rocky Mount Fire Protection District said. "I'm on these docks every day and i check electric on them. Every dock should be safe."


To this day, it was one of the most horrific scenes he's responded to.


Rohwer responded in 2012 when a 26-year-old woman was shocked by electricity while swimming near a dock and killed in Branch Cove in Morgan County.


"Someone lost their life that didn't have to," Rohwer said.


Rohwer spends many of his days at the lake inspecting docks.


On average he's inspecting about five docks per day in the area, and officials say that number is on the rise after 21-year-old Marcus Colburn drowned in Osage Beach.


He was electrocuted in the water just two weeks ago.


"I think there should be a law stating that if you have a dock at the lake of the ozarks, your electricity should be safe," Rohwer said.


Right now, the only time docks are required to be inspected is when their structure is altered or when the property is sold.


But not all docks are inspected the same way.


"With over 25,000 docks on the lake and half of the area of the lake not being inspected, that right there is a huge issue especially with electricity on pretty much every dock that's on the lake," Rohwer said.


A map Ameren Mmissouri provides highlights in color the fire districts at the Lake which will inspect your dock to ensure electrical safety.


However, there are several areas on the map which aren't covered by the participating fire districts.


Therefore, dock owners there must rely solely on electricians.


The Gravois Fire Protection District is one of the fire departments that doesn't check docks for safety.


"With the economic downturn, we're to the point we're struggling now just to keep all of the seven fire stations tha we operate and all of the trucks rolling," Gravois Fire Protection District Chief Ed Hancock said.


The Gravois Fire Protection District covers approximately 150 square miles with about 63 square miles of shoreline.


Chief Hancock said not only do funds limit the district, with only 9 career firefighters, 9 volunteer firefighters and two chief officers they can't afford to use someone to inspect docks without cutting base services such as fighting fires, emergency resucies and running emergency medical services with the ambulance to potentially life threatening emergencies.


"The whole goal is we're here to protect life and property, and it's sometimes a little discouraging when we see areas that we need to move into and financially we can't," Hancock said.


Like Rohwer, Hancock believes there needs to be state legislation put into place.


"Without some state legislation mandating inspections of docks on a regular basis, like we do with vehicle inspections, there's still a lot of these docks that fall through the cracks," Hancock said.


The Lake of the Ozarks has been called a "vacationers paradise"...meaning, the homes they're staying in aren't their primary residences so they aren't voting in the areaâ?¦and for places like the gravois fire protection district, that can be problematic in trying to get oridinances passed.


"if we're going to do inspections, it requires an ordinance to be adoptedâ?¦elected officials have to do that and sometimesâ?¦if the community itself isn't calling for it and they're not willing to put the extra money out to fund something, those things don't happen until something really tragic happens that gets everybody's attention," Hancock said.


Hancock and Rohwer agree, at the end of the day, it is the homeowners responsibility to make sure their dock is safe.


"Regardless of the permitting process and the inspections, it still requires the diligence of the homeowner to check their docks and to have them periodically inspected by an electrician and repaired as needed," Hancock said.


"It's just like whenever you get in your car everyday, you decide whether or not you're going to put your seatbelt on," Rohwer said. "Are you going to have your dock inspected to make sure it's safe for you and others?"


Rowher said the most common problem he finds during dock inspections is incorrect grounding.


He said there's too many places where the dock needs to be grounded that they don't see it.


Ameren owns Bagnell Dam which forms the Lake of the Ozarks.


They operate the dam under a license from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission which includes managing the shoreline as well as the water and dock permits.


Ameren representatives wouldn't go on camera to comment on this topic but said to get a permit for a dock with electricity, the application must come with a fire district permit showing you're going through the process of electrical permitting and inspection.


If you're outside of a participating fire district, Ameren says you must then follow Ameren's rules which you can find on their website, and you have to have the electricity installed by what they call a qualified electrician.


On a side note, Missouri does not require electricians or contractors to be licensed on the state level.


However, some local governments require a certification or work to be done by a journeyman electrician.


State Representative Mark Parkinson from Metro St. Louis introduced legislation this year to establish an electrical licensing board, but it did not go anywhere.

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