Keeping The Rides and Our Kids Safe

Alex DeDiego flailed against the locked gate, his face contorted, screaming. “My son is in there!” He pointed to the ride in motion. “Look at him, he’s crying! Stop the ride!”
The ride operator, his face a blank, silently turned a switch, slowing the ride to a halt. DeDiego remained locked outside the gate.
Carefully, the operator hoisted the boy out of the airplane and carried him over to his father. The agonized dad accepted him soundlessly, pulling him close to his chest, and walked away.
The role-play was over. The operator had passed the test. DeDiego’s hands now hung at his sides instead of cradling an invisible child.
“We don’t want parents interfering with the operation of the ride,” said DeDiego, a Department of Buildings (DOB) elevator inspector, during a recent inspection of a street fair in Astoria that the DOB granted The Courier exclusive access to accompany inspectors. “It’s not safe for the parents; it’s not safe for the kids.”
Screaming children are just one challenge that operators face on the job. “We have a different scenario for different rides,” DeDiego said, gesturing toward the ride owner’s representative who acted as the operator. “We want compassionate operators. If a kid is crying his eyeballs out and the parent is not there for whatever reason, we want [operators] to stop the ride and get the child off.”
DeDiego and Craig Gualtieri, the other inspector on the site, are part of a team of a dozen DOB elevator inspectors who also inspect amusement rides. The inspectors underwent special training by the National Association of Amusement Rides Safety Officials, according to DOB spokesperson Carly Sullivan. Both elevators and amusement rides share similar electrical, mechanical and hydraulic components.
Permanent rides, like those found at Coney Island, are inspected every 90 days; while temporary rides, like ones used in street fairs, are inspected each time a fair moves to a new location. DOB conducted 1,799 ride inspections in 2006 and 1,909 in 2007.
The inspections have shown commendable results. According to DOB citywide statistics, there have been zero ride related fatalities since 2005, and only one serious accident that occurred on a permanent ride in 2005. There was one non-serious accident on a temporary ride and two on permanent rides in 2005, zero in 2006, eight in 2007 and one so far this year. The non-serious accidents involved slips, trips and bruises.
After amusement ride companies obtain the proper licenses and permits from the Department of Consumer Affairs, DOB agents visit the locations that house the temporary attractions to confirm the rides are in the correct spot. Elevator inspectors then visit the site.
Compared to elevators, ride inspections are “much different, but still public safety is of utmost importance,” DeDiego said. “Whether it’s a ride or elevator, it’s top priority.”
Inspectors, with a voltage tester, stopwatch and flashlight in hand, first perform a hands-on test. They feel around the ride for jagged edges, make sure the seats, like the horses of a carousel, are secure by pulling down on them and check for any loose wires or open electrical sockets. Inspectors also check that the ride is level. If the ride is not already balanced, ride owners place blockings, or pieces of wood, under the ride.
After the inspectors check the motors, hydraulics and electrical components, the ride is powered on and a yellow tape test is conducted.
“We’ll tie off a seat with caution tape, then when it’s going around and picks up speed, we’ll time within a minute how many times it goes around,” Gualtieri said. “That’s how you get RPMs [rotations per minute].”
The inspectors also mark blockings to see whether the ride moved during the test. If it did, operators need to secure the ride.
Four of the rides at the Astoria street fair were mechanical. There were two carousel-type rides, one with horses and the other with cars, a pendulum ride and an airplane ride. There was also a non-mechanical ride.
For “a non-mechanical ride, one of the main attributes is wind,” DeDiego said. “The scenery of this ride is very important. Any strong wind can come and just knock it over if they are not secured properly. Kids have a lot of fun on this ride; it’s like a maze that they run through.”
All of the rides at the street fair received a green tag, meaning they passed inspection. Without a green tag, rides cannot legally operate.
“We want to have a safe and fun environment for all the kids and riders,” said DOB Elevators Unit Director Harry Vyas, who was at the Astoria site. “That’s our main goal for being here.”
The DOB role-play was the precursor of a spot check when the carnival is actually in operation. Inspectors wearing street clothes watch operators at the carnival to make sure they are safely running the ride and following standard procedures, which include preventing parents from entering the barricades.
“No cell phones, no head phones, no looking away from the ride because in that split second, something can happen to a kid and we don’t want that,” Gualtieri said.
Although safety is their main concern, the inspectors said rides are a nice change of pace from elevators. Gualtieri said he tries to ride many of the attractions. “It’s better than riding an elevator.”
The series of precautions that inspectors take demonstrate their responsibility and purpose, and fun is an added perk.
“It’s all about the little guys,” Gualtieri said.
DeDiego agreed. “The smiles on their faces, it’s great.”

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