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Neighbors Growing Together | Jul 16, 2018

Ride assessments already underway at upcoming Iowa State Fair

Ohio tragedy raises awareness of risks associated with thrill rides
By Rod Boshart, Gazette Des Moines Bureau | Jul 28, 2017

DES MOINES — Iowa State Fair officials and state amusement ride inspectors already were focused on safety before this week’s deadly accident in Ohio brought heightened awareness to the risks associated with high-intensity thrill rides, officials said Thursday.

One person died and seven others were injured Wednesday at the Ohio State Fair in Columbus when the Fireball ride malfunctioned, causing parts of the structure — including a full row of seats — to split up and fall.

Gary Slater, chief executive officer and manager of the Iowa State Fair, said the Fireball — a ride owned by Amusements of America and operated mostly in Eastern states — is not among the 43 rides that will be featured at the main and kids’ midways when Iowa’s premiere summer entertainment venue opens its 11-day run in Des Moines on Aug. 10.

Slater said the Iowa fair’s contract with Belle City Amusement — formerly Blue Grass shows — ended in 2016 and this year’s arrangement features rides booked individually with multiple companies that are inspected and certified by the state and monitored by an independent ride-inspection consulting firm. Inspectors are on the lookout for worn parts, metal fatigue and stress points when assessing rides, he said.

“We think we have a model there that will be good for the quality and the safety of our midway,” Slater said.

Jim Borwey, manager of the state Division of Labor’s elevator, boiler and amusement ride bureau in Iowa Workforce Development, said some of the state’s eight inspectors are at the fairgrounds this week watching amusement rides being assembled to assess mechanical and electrical compliance.

Once the rides are assembled, Borwey said, inspectors have workers operate them to check for safety issues and make sure the operators know what they’re doing. They also check maintenance records and make certain rules are posted for riders and parents of children, as well as verbalized by operators, he said.

If a safety issue emerges during inspections or spot checks during the fair, a ride is denied operation until action is taken.

“We actually have a pretty good track record. There are relatively few accidents or incidents that occur on amusement rides,” said Borwey, who noted the last ride-related fatality in Iowa occurred in June 2016 when an employee slipped and fell while assisting patrons at Adventureland in Altoona.

“We try as hard as we can but accidents do happen,” he noted. “With any kind of a moving piece of equipment, there is a certain amount of inherent risk in the operation of that ride, so I think people need to be aware of their own comfort factor before they ride one of the rides.”

Slater said the fair has not had a ride-related death. Several years ago, two riders got stranded atop an “ejection seat” ride when a cable wrapped over a sprocket, temporarily disabling the ride until a fire department snorkel lift unit safely retrieved the riders and the machine was repaired.

“That was the only incident we’ve had,” Slater said. “Of course there are rides where a motor burns out or something like that, and they’re stopped until they get them fixed. But nothing that’s created an incident or an accident.”

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