Workers in purple shirts emblazoned with “Safety First” were putting the final touches Wednesday on the Mega Drop, a 145-foot tall attraction that provides visitors to the Arizona State Fair with the sensations of free fall.
They scurried about the platform of the popular ride and the fairground’s midway, assembling the rides that are going to test the nerves and stomachs of more than 1 million fairgoers expected to attend this year from Friday’s opening to Nov. 5.
Making sure the thrills don’t turn to tragedy is the job of Rick Achard, co-owner of Coulter and Associates, a company the state hired to oversee the safety of the rides.
“Our safety team is out there every day,” Achard said.
Arizona has no regulations governing the safety of traveling carnival rides and no state inspectors.
However, fairgoers need not worry, say Achard and Tony Fiori, spokesman for Ray Cammack Shows, the Laveen-based company that provides the rides.
“They’re going to get an honest evaluation,” Achard said.
Coulter and Associates has the final say on whether a ride is closed for safety reasons.
Ray Cammack Shows has its own on-site safety team and the foreman of every ride is trained in safety, Fiori said.
Carnival workers are trained to report any unusual noises or if something doesn’t seem right.
“Everyone is the eyes and ears of our safety,” Fiori said.
The process begins when the trucks show up with the rides at the fairgrounds at 1826 W. McDowell Road near the Veterans Memorial Coliseum.
Achard and his partner, Barry Schaible, inspect the pieces as they’re unloaded and keep watch as the rides are assembled.
The rides get a final inspection before opening and either he or Schaible is on site daily to supervise, Achard said.
He said the inspection protocol is based on the rides and subsequent bulletins from the rides’ manufacturers.
“They’re the ones who built it. They’re the ones who know what’s going on,” Achard said. And even though the state isn’t involved in ride safety, Fiori and Achard said they would welcome it. “It would benefit everybody,” Achard said.
Ray Cammack Shows and Coulter and Associates have lobbied the Legislature for regulations only to have two bills die in committee.
“Once the state starts regulating, there’s more liability for the state to assume,” Achard said.
No matter the diligence, accidents still happen.
Traveling carnivals averaged 3,100 injuries per year between 1997 and 2004, and about four deaths annually over the same period, according to estimates by the U.S. Consumer Product and Safety Commission.
Those estimates are based on a survey sample of 100 hospitals.
Ray Cammack Shows, which produces fairs throughout the country, hasn’t been immune to accidents either, according to news media reports and records in Maricopa County Superior Court.
In 2001, a Maricopa County jury awarded $11,500 to Derek Bednarek, who was standing in line for a Ferris wheel when a set of lights fell and hit the back of his head.
The jury of five women and two men included a handwritten note with their judgment: “In addition to the damages awarded, the jury desires to chastise Ray Cammack Shows for the blatant disregard for the public welfare. Safety standards must be improved.”
And when Guadalupe Moroyoque went to the fair in 1997, he broke his ankle at the bottom of a slide when his foot slid underneath the carpet at the bottom. Moroyoque, 29, said he settled out of court and has since returned to the fair, confident in the safety of its rides.
“I just don’t get on slides now,” Moroyoque said. “Life sucks. Get a helmet.” Fiori said there are risks involved and lawsuits are inevitable in his industry, especially when millions of people visit fairs each year. “We at RCS have strived to improve our safety everyday, every year that we’re open,” Fiori said.
• Wear proper footwear.
• Know what the ride does before you get on.
• Know the height and weight restrictions before you get in line.
• Don’t force children to get on a ride.