Ohio tragedy renews focus on amusement park ride inspections

Inspecting rides at the State Fire of Texas

The summer midway at Fair Park is quiet and sweltering but work is happening.

Rusty Fitzgerald is senior vice president for operations at the State Fair of Texas.  He has overseen inspections for all the rides that come through the midway since 2001.

That includes the six fair owned rides that are on the grounds year round, like the iconic “lovebug” ride.

“It’s probably 25 or 30 years (old) but it’s like brand new,” Fitzgerald said. “We’ll inspect rides as they arrive, as they’re getting set up and then after they get set up.”

On Thursday he was conducting a pre-scheduled inspection on the ride, but admitted his thoughts were well north of North Texas.

One person died and five others were critically injured when a piece of the “Fireball” ride came loose in midair at the Ohio State Fair in Columbus.

“I’ve seen the video of it, t’s a terrible situation that happened,” Fitzgerald said. “It’s a very popular ride.  They actually have a very good safety record.  This is something we don’t know what happened yet.”

Investigators in Ohio don’t know yet either, saying only the ride had been inspected 3-4 times before its state fair opened Wednesday.

Fitzgerald says his team of seven inspectors advance scout rides before they arrive in Dallas.

“I’ve got inspectors right now in Wisconsin inspecting rides that are going to come here in two months,” Fitzgerald said.

The Texas Department of Insurance requires all amusement park rides to be inspected annually and that operators maintain updated records to keep insurance policies on rides active.

Fitzgerald says the State Fair of Texas goes further, conducting what’s called non-destructive testing - almost like an x-ray for steel.

“It’s something that’s not required but we take that extra step to make sure we’re comfortable with it,” Fitzgerald said.

The ride in Ohio is not coming to Texas when the fair opens September 29.

But Fitzgerald says a similar style ride will be on the midway and he adds there are more than 100 like it across the country.

“Almost every fair and amusement park has one,” Fitzgerald said.

© 2017 WFAA-TV


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