INDIANAPOLIS (WISH) — The Indiana State Fair opens its gates Friday morning with the Midway taking its first riders at noon.
The opening comes in the shadow of tragedy at the Ohio State Fair. On July 26, Columbus resident Tyler Jarrell, 18, died when a section of seats on The Fireball ride broke apart in midair. Seven others were injured and four remained in serious or critical condition, according to local news outlets.
In response, the Indiana State Fair has announced it will not use The Fireball, and inspections began Thursday on all of Indiana State Fair’s 50 rides.
The Indiana Department of Homeland Security dispatched 14 inspectors to put their hands on each ride and complete a standard Indiana State Code inspection.
“Structurally, there isn’t any change in the way the rides are being inspected,” said John Erickson, public affairs director for the Indiana Department of Homeland Security and the State Fire Marshal’s Office. “Inspectors are human beings like the rest of us, and they’re thinking of that situation over in Ohio. Will they take a closer look? Probably. But they’re taking this to a high level anyway.”
Erickson and his team of 14 arrived early Thursday and spread out across the Midway at the fairgrounds.
“I’ll look at all of the carrier pins, OK?” said an inspector to a colleague as the two worked on the fair’s Ferris wheel.
The man tried the gates to one of the Ferris wheel’s gondolas, and the gate didn’t snap back into place.
“I’m not going to pass this here, OK?” he said looking at the Farmland, Indiana-based North American Midway Entertainment employee, who moved to fix the faulty door.
“They look mechanically, they look at all components,” Erickson said. “They will check each seat on the ride to make sure there’s no sharp edges. They make sure lap belts are appropriate. They make sure the ride is up to Indiana code.”
Erickson said the crews even check cosmetic issues on the rides, like light bulbs that have gone out. While that wouldn’t stop a ride from running when the fair opens, he said it’s all part of the report.
Once the fair begins, Erickson said, one inspector will remain on the premises every hour that the rides are operating.
“That’s so if there’s an issue, we can take care of it quickly; if there’s a complaint, we’ll come look at it as quickly as possible,” Erickson said. “We want to be here as a resource to handle things in an expedient manner.”
He said he understands the public’s concern for safety and that he trusts his crew and the state codes.
“We’re going to bring our kids to the state fair,” he said, “and if they want to ride these rides, we will allow them to ride them. I know the people who do these inspections, and I know that they work very hard at their jobs.”
Erickson said that if a fairgoer sees an inattentive ride operator or notices a loose seat or fraying lap belt, let a fair employee know. Fairgoers also can call the Department of Homeland Security safety hotline at 1-888-203-5020 or email email@example.com.
Erickson also advised parents to keep in mind the maturity level of their child when selecting a ride. He also asked parents to remain aware that riders must follow staff instructions and exit and enter the ride safely.