As a pre-state fair safety measure, a first-time training session was organized by the Fairlea Volunteer Fire Department (FVFD) at the fairgrounds on Monday, July 30, to have fire departments and emergency services join with safety coordinator Jeff Alberts with Reithoffer Shows to establish how to handle a worst-case scenario in case of a ride failure.
The point of the exercise was, in Alberts words, “…to be proactive instead of reactive.” He said 95-percent of any possible incident can be handled by the Reithoffer Shows’ crews without the aid of local emergency services. The training session paired firemen with the crew members to learn how best to use each others’ knowledge and experience to get people to safety. The Reithoffer Shows’ crews travel with the rides, constructing, operating, and deconstructing the rides at each operating location, and so are familiar with every ride, Alberts said.
Included in the training session along with FVFD were members of the White Sulphur Springs Volunteer Fire Department, Ronceverte Volunteer Fire Department, Lewisburg Fire Department, Frankford Volunteer Fire Department and Greenbrier County Homeland Security and Emergency Management.
The training involved running drills with emergency responders and firemen aboard the rides as “fair goers,” with crew workers stopping the ride at various points where, hypothetically, a ride failure might occur. Ladders from fire trucks were then positioned to demonstrate how to rescue and extricate the trapped “fair goers.”
Gary Workman, one of the event coordinators and the assistant fire chief for both Lewisburg Fire Department and Fairlea Volunteer Fire Department, stated, “[The training session will] give us insight on preplanning, where, if something does happen, we know where to place our trucks… [and gather] knowledge of what we need to do, how we need to set up, and how to do it the most safely.”
As noted in the West Virginia Daily News, Alberts brought up an incident that occurred last year at the Ohio State Fair involving a death and several injuries which raised concerns about carnival rides across the nation.
CEO of the State Fair of West Virginia Kelly Collins said, “Since the accident last year, carnival companies across the country have been able to do additional testing on their rides and make any updates necessary to ensure fair goer safety.” The ride, called the Fireball, is not on the roster for the State Fair of West Virginia.
“Rides at the State Fair of West Virginia go through a three-phase inspection,” said Collins. “First of all, the carnival itself is always monitoring the rides, how they are loaded and unloaded and what shape they are inside and out. Second, we bring in a third-party inspector that looks over each ride bolt-by-bolt. Lastly, no ride is opened without a stamp of approval from the WV Division of Labor’s Ride Safety Inspectors.” The rides also go through varying levels of safety inspections every two weeks, ranging in intensity based on which state or even county the rides are located.
An additional point Alberts had was in response to a phrase he hears a lot – “they just throw those rides up.” “First and foremost,” he said, “the rides are made that way. It’s made to go up that fast. We can tear down here today and open tomorrow 400 miles away. We have the same guys working each fair with us; they put up the rides, they tear down the rides, they maintenance the rides, they run the rides, and they inspect them every day.”