LAKE OF THE OZARKS, Mo. — A wiring problem could have killed several people who were swimming in the Lake last week.
The Rocky Mount Fire Protection District, RMFPD, responded to a residence reporting electricity in the lake by their dock at 2 p.m. on Tuesday, July 3. The house and dock were off J Road in Rocky Mount, on the 5 Mile Marker of the Lake of the Ozarks.
According to RMFPD Fire Chief Kevin Hurtibise, on arrival firefighters confirmed AC voltage in the water ranging from 3.5 to 15 volts. “These are life threatening levels,” Chief Hurtibise explained.
Thankfully no injuries were reported, but prior to fire units arriving, several small children did report feeling electricity in the water. Also, according to Hurtibise, an adult female said "as she was getting out of the water, and as she reached for the dock ladder, she reported arcing between the ladder and the rings on her hand. She also said she felt electricity."
After the initial investigation, the cause was first thought to be electricity from a breaker panel at the residence feeding to the dock sub-panel, through the ground wire, and then to the dock. However, after working with an electrician, it was later discovered that the underlying problem was actually a water heater that was causing voltage to go to the ground wire. “We will inspect the repair before the dock in reconnected,” Chief Hurtibise said.
"I can't believe this ended this way. Someone could have died," Chief Hurtibise said, relieved. “If you feel electricity in the water, please swim as far away from any dock as possible and exit the water at the shore avoiding metal,” he urged.
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The chief advises the following, if you are on a dock and someone reports feeling electricity in the water:
1. Throw a life jacket to the swimmer, if they don't have one.
2. Go to the dock sub-panel at the shore line and turn off all breakers in the box.
3. Call 911.
To reiterate: swimmers should never approach a dock if they feel electricity in the water — not any dock. In 2015, a swimmer was electrocuted when he grabbed a dock ladder after feeling electricity in the water.
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“Electricity in the water is a true emergency,” Chief Hurtibise explained. “If you believe you feel electricity, call 911 immediately. It needs to be investigated right away to determine the cause. Conditions between the docks and the Lake are changing all the time: the sooner it is checked, the better opportunity there will be of finding the problem and/or saving a life.”
It is a good idea to have your dock inspected at least once a year by the fire department or a certified electrician.
Dock owners are required to have their dock inspected by the fire department if any one of the following happens:
1. The dock is modified in any way.
2. The dock is moved for any reason, including for repairs.
3. If you sell your home, the dock must pass current code, before the closing date.
For additional information call the RMFPD at 573-392-4301.
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