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Officials Vouch For Safety Of Amusement Rides

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WAMC photo by Dave Lucas
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As county fair season ramps up, rules and regulations governing amusement rides are coming under closer scrutiny after an incident in Ohio where one person died after riders were hurled off the Fire Ball.

On Thursday, in what it referred to as an "abundance of caution," The New York State Department of Labor announced it will re-inspect all rides managed by Amusements of America, the company involved in the fatal accident in Ohio, as well as all rides of a similar type owned by any company.

Amusements of America is operating the rides at the Green Mountain Fair in Manchester, Vermont, which opened Thursday night. Fair manager Nick DeMauro tells NewsChannel13 the company has a full-time safety officer.  "They have certified inspectors working with and traveling with the carnival, and every day they inspect their rides."

Although Vermont has no state inspection program, DeMauro explained he is confident in his rides is because they just came from the Saratoga County Fair where they had been scrutinized by state inspectors.

Officials investigating the Ohio tragedy are baffled because the failed ride had passed multiple inspections. According to the Associated Press, records show that inspections were up to date and an Ohio state permit had just been issued for the ride.

Wade Shows operates the New York State Fair, and has a Fire Ball ride machine, but it is not scheduled to be in Syracuse when the fair opens next month.    "what happened in Ohio was tragic, and when a tragedy happens like that at any fair it's a tragedy for all fairs in a lot of ways," says Troy Waffner,  the fair's acting director. He notes the New York State Fair employs a three-layer inspection process, anchored by the New York State Department of Labor.   "When rides arrive here and they're starting to arrive for the New York State Fair right now, these department of Labor inspectors come in and they look at everything, every bolt, every component, every piece while it's on the ground, while it's going up, after it's going up, they're tested. They're put through rotations, and on top of that, we as a fair employ a third-party independent representative. He travels all around the country doing ride inspections as well as Wade Shows, our carnival provider, also employs an independent ride inspector. So between these three groups they go over every single ride, when it arrives, as it goes up and after it goes up, and that doesn't stop when a ride is operating. They go through those rides every day that they are operating."

Waffner adds the fair would not hesitate to shut down a ride if there were any suspicions it was malfunctioning.  The 2017 New York State Fair runs from Aug. 23rd to Sept. 4th.

The New York State Department of Labor answered a request for comment by email, stating it "inspects all rides at stationary parks outside of New York City at least once a year and inspects rides at traveling carnivals or fairs every time the rides are set up in a new location. A ride cannot legally operate without a permit from the Department of Labor. Last year, the Department of Labor performed nearly 1,600 inspections on more than 9,000 amusement devices and issued more than 2,900 orders to correct violations."

The Department of Labor inspections entail a three-step process:

·         As rides are brought into a fair or festival location, each individual part and component of each individual ride is inspected for defects.

·         The ride is assembled and inspected again to ensure that all components have been assembled and secured properly.

·         The operator of the ride is required to run the ride, and it is inspected once more while operating. The person operating the ride is also observed to ensure that he or she is operating the ride correctly.

According to the International Association of Amusement Parks and Attractions, approximately 335 million guests safely enjoyed 1.6 billion rides at 400 U.S. amusement parks during 2015. The chance of being seriously injured on a fixed-site ride at a U.S. amusement park is 1 in 16 million.

Dave Lucas is WAMC’s Capital Region Bureau Chief. Born and raised in Albany, he’s been involved in nearly every aspect of local radio since 1981. Before joining WAMC, Dave was a reporter and anchor at WGY in Schenectady. Prior to that he hosted talk shows on WYJB and WROW, including the 1999 series of overnight radio broadcasts tracking the JonBenet Ramsey murder case with a cast of callers and characters from all over the world via the internet. In 2012, Dave received a Communicator Award of Distinction for his WAMC news story "Fail: The NYS Flood Panel," which explores whether the damage from Hurricane Irene and Tropical Storm Lee could have been prevented or at least curbed. Dave began his radio career as a “morning personality” at WABY in Albany.
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