By Victoria Ratliff
INDIANAPOLIS- As Hoosiers and visitors walk under the archway of the Midway at the Indiana State Fair, games, fair food and rides are expected.
What isn’t expected is an unsafe, un-inspected fair ride.
The Indiana Department of Homeland Security (IDHS) oversees inspection of all of the fair’s rides, making sure they are safe for eager visitors. The IDHS doesn’t have a hand in assembling the rides, but instead inspects them to ensure safety requirements are met.
“Safety is our highest priority,” Indiana State Fire Marshal Jim Greeson said Thursday standing in front of the Tilt-A-Whirl at the fairgrounds. “We look at those rides to make sure they are meeting the manufacturers’ parameters.”
An inspector walks through the Midway the day before the Indiana State Fair opens. Photo by Lacey Watt, TheStatehouseFile.com.
Indiana codes include making sure stop buttons work, that there is proper padding where needed and that welded metals are secure.
Tom Hendricks, chief inspector of amusement rides for IDHS, said many aspects of a ride are looked at, including brakes.
One way they’re tested? They ride them. Thursday – after the initial inspections and riderless run-throughs of the amusements — IDHS staff members were trying out the Bullet Train roller coaster and other thrills to make sure they weren’t unintentionally too thrilling.
Casey Kenworthy raises his hands, having fun test riding the Arctic Express before the State Fair opening day. Photo by Lacey Watt, TheStatehouseFile.com.
Most of the rides had already had the one yearly inspection that is required. The checks Thursday by the IDHS are just extra precautions to ensure the safety of the visitors.
The 23 inspectors out on the midway check each ride, one by one, for issues. If an issue is minor, they typically fix it on sight. Other larger issues might take days to fix. So far, no rides inspected this year have had any issues.
In 2011, the State Fair received nationwide publicity after a stage collapsed during a Sugarland concert, killing seven people, during a storm. It was later found that the stage did not meet certain safety requirements. Hendricks said, however, the department’s building safety inspectors, and not the elevator and amusement ride safety inspectors, are in charge of inspecting stages.
While a ride may be deemed safe, it still can be shut down in case of bad weather. For example, the Ferris Wheel cannot operate if the winds are over 35 miles per hour.
An inspector does final checks on the Ferris Wheel before the opening of the Indiana State Fair. Photo by Lacey Watt, TheStatehouseFile.com.
The Midway, with around 50 rides, takes about two-and-a-half days to inspect. The staff started inspections Wednesday morning and expects to have them finished when the Midway opens to fairgoers at noon Friday.
At that point, fairgoers can express their own safety concerns. Each ride has a sticker with the phone number of the IDHS. If at any point a spectator feels that a ride is unsafe, he or she can call the number and the IDHS will come and do further checks.
Matthew Cronley, IDHS amusement rides section chief, said, though, that fairgoers can relax and just have fun.
“I can confidently say you can bring your family, your friends, your kids, your grandchildren out here to the State Fair, and you’ll have a fun experience,” Cronley said.
Victoria Ratliff is a reporter for TheStatehouseFile.com, a news website powered by Franklin College journalism students.