Iowa State Fair Rides Under Increased Scrutiny

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DES MOINES, Iowa  --  A deadly accident on the Fire Ball ride at the Ohio State Fair last month highlights the dangers of some rides and the need for comprehensive inspections of amusement park and carnival rides.

But Andrea Spencer, a patron at the Iowa State Fair isn't too concerned.

"Quite frankly we don’t necessarily come for the rides," says Spencer.  "We come to compete."

Her son has a lot on the line in a baking competition.  He hopes his cake and cookies are good enough to earn him a ribbon.  But Spencer's kids do have a few favorite rides.

"Our middle son, he loves the big slide.  That’s a favorite," says Spencer.  "Of course we have to do the Sky Glide ride up to heritage hill every year."

There are about 60 rides at the Iowa State Fair this year, which are operated by about 20 vendors from across the country.

Jim Borwey with the Iowa Division of Labor is in charge of ride inspections.  There are a total of 10 inspectors - four with the Division of Labor and six with an independent contractor.

"We have a number of things we look at," says Borwey.

He says the inspection starts with the ride's mechanics.

"We make sure all of the pieces and parts are assembled correctly."

Electrical systems are also checked before moving on to the operational aspects of the rides, which includes following safety bulletins issued by the ride's manufacturer.

"The manufacturer keeps track of where these rides are and they’ll send that directly to the operator," says Borwey.

The operator is then responsible for taking corrective action or conducting additional inspections.

Safety bulletins have been issued recently for at least three rides at the Iowa State Fair this year.  Among them, the Crazy Mouse on the North edge of "Thrill Ville," formerly known as the Midway.  The bulletin notes, "Numerous areas of cracking have been found on the support column track location cones."

The manufacturer of the Giant Wheel also called for additional inspections after the discovery of "a crack in the area of the main axle... that could result in serious injury."

And the manufacturer of the Sizzler issued a safety bulletin after a deadly accident involving that ride in Texas last year.  The bulletin notes "cracking on the capstan shaft... found on all three shafts... of a ride that was only a year old."

The Sizzler, also located in "Thrill Ville" is responsible for at least 12 incidents involving death or serious injury since 1991.

"We pay attention to particular stress points and if there's a crack, rest assured, we'll have them take care of that," says Borwey.

He says his staff is aware of the safety bulletins and by and large, the track record for amusement rides is good - particularly at the Iowa State Fair.

Andrea Spencer certainly hopes so.  There's a lot on the line for her and other fair goers.

"I think the Iowa State Fair has done their research.  I would hope and that they’ve brought in good rides for kids and adults."









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