Report finds heated sidewalk was not up to code when dog was electrocuted

SPOKANE, Wash. - On February 7, Zach Harper was walking his dog Hank in front of Washington Trust Bank on Sprague in downtown Spokane.

Sadly, Hank was electrocuted while passing over a heated sidewalk that was part of a parking entrance into the building.

In order to find the root cause of the sidewalk failure, the bank hired an electrical engineer to do a full investigation.

Stephen Helms, who has over 40 years of experience in the consulting engineering field, conducted the investigation and created a report of his findings. The full report can be found at the bottom of the story.

According to his report and confirmation from Avista that there were no power grid issues, “the Bank adopted the working scenario that some type of damage to the heater system buried in the driveway allowed electricity to escape. The presence of water contaminated with deicer created conditions where the resistance in the concrete was reduced and the electricity shocked Hank when he stepped on the area.”

Helms also found that the sidewalk was not up to code; not the current code any way. 

“The snow melt system that failed at WTB was installed in 1973. It met National Electrical Code (NEC) requirements at that time,” the report states. However, a new code went into effect in 1993. “What occurred in this case will only occur on systems that were installed prior to the 1993 NEC code going into effect,” the report goes on to say.

Later in the report, Helms details his thoughts on the event. “In my opinion, it is most likely that Hank’s death was caused an electrical current through his body that passed through his heart and disturbed his normal heart rhythm. It is my understanding that this opinion is consistent with what Mr. Harper’s veterinarian told Mr. Harper was the likely cause of death.”

Helms recommendations were that all sections of the heated sidewalk be updated immediately.

Zach Harper emailed KXLY with his thoughts on the report saying, “my main question that I still have is— why after 1993 was the WTB’s snow melting system not retrofitted with GFPE circuit breakers? 20 years after its installation, even after the NEC ‘recommended’ that systems are updated... it wasn’t.”

Harper went on to say that he plans on getting directly involved with the City of Spokane, the Spokane City Council and Mayor David Condon to try and create an initiative requiring businesses to update/retrofit this type of equipment since there seem to be no specific preexisting regulations.

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