Are rides at local fairs safe? Local fair managers, state officials respond after Ohio State Fair incident – Centre Daily Times
Fairs are synonymous with summer. Games and cotton candy, funnel cake and blue ribbons.
And rides — Ferris wheels, carousels, all kinds of rides that spin and whirl, thrill rides with speed, heights and centrifugal force.
But sometimes, rides go wrong. At the Ohio State Fair last week, one person died and seven were injured — three of them seriously — when a “Fire Ball” thrill ride had a section of seats detach in what the state’s Gov. John Kasich called the worst tragedy in the fair’s history.
It isn’t the first time a ride has turned deadly this year. In May, a 15-month-old girl died in Kansas after she was electrocuted holding the handrail of a bounce house.
So how safe are rides closer to home?
Pennsylvania Secretary of Agriculture Russell Redding said Thursday that steps were being taken to “ensure the safety of amusement riders” in the Keystone State.
“Upon learning of this accident, we immediately ordered rides similar to the one in question in Ohio to suspend operations here until we can better understand what happened there and ensure riders here are safe,” he said.
According to the state, Amusements of America, which owns and operates the ride in question, has not been registered to do business in Pennsylvania for five years. Two similar rides called “The Afterburner” are registered in the state to separate companies but are not in operation in Pennsylvania. The owner/operators have been contacted by the state and told operation of those rides are being suspended until investigation of the Ohio incident is complete.
Rides at the Clearfield County Fair, which opens July 30, are operated by Reithoffer Shows, a Gibsonton, Fla., company that operates rides like the Zipper and the Full Tilt. Reithoffer has been the midway operator at the Clearfield event for years.
The company is also the target of two ongoing federal lawsuits that allege injury on its rides.
A Maryland woman says a ride called the “Sizzler” or “Scrambler” unexpectedly moved while she was disembarking, causing her to fall and hurt herself. She is asking $500,000 in damages, and the case is set for a settlement conference.
In New York, a woman says she fractured a rib and injured ligaments in her wrist in a 2015 incident involving another ride.
In both cases, Reithoffer denies responsibility, saying the women themselves were “contributorily negligent” and assumed the risks of injury when they decided to ride.
“We would like to give peace of mind to our patrons that the Clearfield County Fair will continue to follow all state requirements pertaining to the inspection of rides,” said fair manager Greg Hallstrom in a statement.
Those include testing by an independent state-licensed inspector before the rides open, and daily testing by ride foremen as well as follow-up inspections by the state inspector, Hallstrom said.
According to the state’s Bureau of Ride and Measurement Standards, there are more than 9,300 amusements registered in Pennsylvania, “more than any other state or foreign country.” The bureau trains and certifies about 1,600 inspectors.
Next month, the Centre County Encampment and Grange Fair will open with its own midway of rides and attractions.
“Safety at Grange Fair is very important and that certainly includes ride safety,” general manager Darlene Confer said. “We have two ride vendors and they both follow the rules and regulations required by the state Department of Agriculture for amusement ride owners operating in Pennsylvania. We, Grange Fair, rely on the Pa. inspectors who monitor ride structure and operation guidelines, and to make available those reports. Our amusement ride owners are responsible for doing a daily inspection of their rides.”
Neither Bartlebaugh Amusements nor Garbrick Amusements have any legal cases against them in federal court or Centre County Court of Common Pleas alleging injury or negligence.