With schools across the borough finishing up for the summer, the outdoor neighborhood festival and street fair season is just gearing up.
One of the main attractions of these traveling festivals are the temporary amusement rides including Ferris wheels, carousels and Tilt-a-whirls that thousands of kids of all ages will eagerly ride on this year.
Many adults often wonder exactly how safe are these rides?
Therefore, the City’s Department of Buildings (DOB) granted The Courier Sun exclusive access to accompany DOB inspectors on a typical inspection of an 11-ride site at St. Gregory the Great in Bellerose. We were able to see how each ride is inspected and what goes into determining if the ride will pass inspection prior to the festival opening.
FIRST THINGS FIRST
Prior to the DOB sending inspectors to the sites, the owners of the traveling festivals have to file the necessary paperwork with the Department of Consumer Affairs (DCA) including proof of insurance for each ride as well as applying for a license from the DCA.
Once the applicant files the necessary paperwork for a particular event, the owner will receive a time and date when DOB inspectors will come to the site of the festival and inspect each ride.
When The Courier Sun arrived at St. Gregory the Great on Wednesday morning, June 13, Newtown Shows, which predominantly runs festivals on Long Island, but has put on the festival at St. Gregory’s for nearly 20 years, had already set up all 11 rides for the festival scheduled to begin the following night.
At the site, Bill Hurley, who is the supervisor of the DOB inspectors, and Louis Rodriguez, who served as the site’s primary inspector, had already begun inspecting the rides, going through the first phase - which is also the longest and most important - visual inspection.
“Our inspections are physical, hands-on, nuts and bolts inspections,” said Hurley, who has been a supervisor for the past four years.
Rodriguez had already performed the visual inspection on the Sizzler, but went back and showed the process from square one of inspecting the ride.
He started out looking at the gate around the ride making sure that it was the proper height and that it displayed proper signage regarding any height requirements for kids before he entered the ride area.
Rodriguez then started at the car labeled number one and proceeded to examine every nut and bolt, lock, pin and every safety apparatus on all the cars checking to see if they were secure as well as examining the structure of the ride. He even put himself inside the ride’s cars in order to test the weight of the cars.
“We don’t play games with these things,” Rodriguez said.
During this particular inspection as with any ride inspection, Rodriguez said that inspectors have a checklist of items to look for, and they make a note of anything they see that does not meet their safety standards. While doing so, they tell the owner they need to fix any safety issue before the ride would receive approval.
On the Sizzler, he mentioned to owner John Newtown that one of his biggest concerns was the short distance the operator was away from the ride.
“We feel the operator is too close to this ride,” Rodriguez said. “If the operator is not protected the ride is not going to go on.”
However, the inspector only tells the owner about his problems with the ride; he does not make any recommendations on how to solve the problem. After making a note of the discrepancy, the inspector would require the owner to come up with a solution before conducting the second phase of the inspection.
“Before we do an operational run on it [the ride] we make sure those discrepancies are met, and if they are, we will test it operationally with power, and then we’ll go from there,” Rodriguez said.
After going through the visual inspection and ensuring all of the potential problems were resolved, the inspection moves into the operational phase.
Here, the inspector turns on the power and runs the ride as it would operate with passengers inside.
“All of your senses are moving, particularly your sight and hearing,” Hurley said as he and Rodriguez observed the Tornado ride in operation mode.
During the operational test, the inspectors used a stopwatch to measure the revolutions per minute (rpm) of the ride to make sure the ride was not spinning too fast. The Tornado passed the rpm test, coming in at seven rpm, below the eight-11 rpm speed limit.
“We like when they come in under,” Rodriguez joked.
Once the DOB inspectors complete their inspections, the owner will receive green cards for the rides that pass, and the owner should display the cards on each ride alerting riders and parents that they passed inspection by the DOB.
However, the DOB involvement does not stop there.
While the festival is taking place, usually during a weekend when there are many people going on the rides, an undercover DOB inspector will visit the site to make sure that all the operators of the rides are doing their job properly.
Inspectors look to make sure that the operator is putting the children on the rides properly, checks all the restraints when they come around, abides by the height requirements and makes sure they are paying attention while the ride is in motion.
If the inspectors see a major violation, then they would contact the owner.
“At that point, we’d go up to the operator, explain who we are, and we would pull his certificate,” Rodriguez said. “We would go to the owner and tell him that this gentleman cannot operate a ride.”
However, Rodriguez said major operator violations are not typical, and sometimes the operators just need a reminder to pay closer attention.
“It’s for the safety of the children, parents and everyone involved,” he said.
THOROUGH INSPECTIONS = SAFE RIDES
After spending nearly the entire day (beginning before 10 a.m. and not finishing until 4:30 p.m.) inspecting the 11 rides at St. Gregory and after the owner made revisions to comply with the DOB inspector’s concerns, Newtown received approval to operate all the rides beginning Thursday night, June 14.
However, this approval is only good for the duration of the festival, which runs until Sunday, June 24, and the next time the festival arrives at a New York City location the entire process begins again. Since 2002, the DOB has increased their amusement park inspections by more than 70 percent, and those additional inspections are producing safe rides.
In 2006, the DOB conducted nearly 1,900 inspections of amusement park rides, with about half being temporary rides, and there were zero amusement-ride accidents during that period. This year, the DOB intends to inspect close to 1,000 temporary rides throughout the city with safety the chief concern. “Last year’s amusement ride season was both fun and safe, thanks to the cooperation of the riders, vendors, operators and the agencies that regulate them - the Buildings Department and the Department of Consumer Affairs,” DOB Commissioner Patricia Lancaster recently said. “We look forward to another season of working to protect the public from the dangers they can’t always see by conducting spot checks to ensure all rides are licensed and ride operators are following safety regulations.”