Corrosion Blamed For Ohio Fair Tragedy
Across the country, fairs respond quickly to questions about ride safety
- by Brad Weissberg
- Published: August 8, 2017
G Force, a similar ride to the Fire Ball ride that snapped apart at Ohio Sate Fair, Columbus, reopened Aug. 9, at OC Fair, Costa Mesa, Calif.
It has been determined by the company that manufactured the carnival ride that killed one man and injured seven others at Ohio State Fair, Columbus, that the tragedy was caused by "excessive corrosion."
The Fire Ball ride, also known as G Force, which spins 40 feet above the ground, broke apart while in motion July 26. The ride was 18 years old.
Tyler Jarrell, an 18-year-old from Columbus, died on the scene. Seven others, ranging in age from 14 to 42, were injured.
CORROSION TO BLAME
Albert Kroon, product manager for KMG, a Dutch amusement ride manufacturer, said, "An investigation at the scene in Columbus determined that excessive corrosion on the interior of the gondola support beam dangerously reduced the beam's wall thickness over the years."
"This finally led to the catastrophic failure of the ride during operation," Kroon said. “The ride passed multiple inspections before Ohio fairgoers were thrown off the Fire Ball.”
Kroon said KMG is cooperating with “industry safety experts to develop an inspection protocol to prevent future accidents from occurring.”
Since this is the middle of the summer fair season, many fairs received questions about the safety of their own midways from the press and fairgoers just hours after the Ohio incident.
GET IN FRONT OF A TRICKY SITUATION
Marla Calico, president and CEO, International Association of Fairs & Expositions (IAFE), advised fair communications directors to get out in front of the news. “Safety is a given and having something like this happen makes you say, ‘let’s take a look, again.’”
Calico suggested going straight into “crisis communication mode" per IAFE’s recently published ARK guidelines for dealing with protestors, section nine. “It helped everyone with messaging,” she said. “You also need to know your policies and procedures; licensing and permitting; and your inspection schedule.”
Calico said when inquiries come, “lead off with a statement of sympathy.” She also said that emphasizing that safety is your number one priority is best practice.
It’s also important to know exactly what happens in your state or province regarding inspections, she said. “Every state is different and you need to be able to answer questions pertinent to your situation. Be able to say XYZ happens in our state” She also suggested that fairs should make sure they have regular communication with their mobile amusement operators.
Calico said fair operators should stress their relationships with police, fire and emergency services. “Let people know you have an emergency plan and that you have procedures for such an emergency.”
Calico advocated “positive and proactive PR” after an incident like what happened at Ohio State Fair. “Fairs are only one-fifth or one-sixth rides,” she said. “There are different program areas to focus on. There’s a lot fairs can do, especially on social media, to send subtle messages.”
Facebook, Twitter and Instagram can all be used to send such messages. Highlighting some of the 4-H activity; showing some of the great food at the fair; showing off the great blue-ribbon quilts that can be seen at the fair; talking about exhibits and letting people know about concerts and other entertainment were some of Calico’s recommendations.
“Just by putting positive images out about other aspects of the fair, other than rides, will send an affirmative message,” she said. “It’s also important to let the fair stakeholders know that you are on top of a tricky situation, and that rides are just a small part of a fair.”
Emphasizing that this was an aberration is also important, according to Calico. "This is so rare in its occurence,” she said. “If you think about the number of mobile amusements that are operated on a daily basis, incidents like this are miniscule.”
OTHER FAIRS REACT QUICKLY
Following the accident, KMG advised all venues that had the Fire Ball ride to shut it down. One fair affected was OC Fair, Costa Mesa, Calif.
“Our carnival partner, Ray Cammack Shows (RCS), got word at 5:30 p.m. PST that a similar ride in Ohio had snapped,” said Terry Moore, communications director, OC Fair. “We have the G Force ride here, which is similar to the ride in Ohio, and made by the same manufacturer.”
RCS and OC Fair immediately took action, shutting the ride down.
Moore said after the fair closed that night, RCS conducted “a thorough inspection” and contacted the state to find out if there was anything else to be done.
OC Fair re-opened G Force late in the day August 9. "We have taken every precaution to ensure that G Force is safe,” said Moore. “The ride passed multiple layers of inspections and is in top shape for G Force fans to enjoy.”
COMMUNICATE "SAFETY FIRST"
OC Fair had numerous inquiries after the Ohio event and G Force was shut down, mostly from the press. The guests have not questioned why G Force is shut down. "There’s a sign saying it’s nonoperational and fairgoers just pass it by and get on another ride,” said Moore.
She said they have done positive messaging, mostly letting people know that in addition to RCS inspecting rides everyday, they also have an independent ride inspector company, Coulter Associates, that inspects the rides. “It’s an extra layer,” she said, along with the Division of Occupational Safety and Health (DOSH) inspections.
“Our messaging to the public has been that we are a ‘safety first’ fair and do everything we can to keep the fairgrounds safe,” she said.
COMMITTED TO SAFETY
Renee Hernandez, communications and public relations manager, at LA County Fair (LACF), Pomona, Calif., said that they’ve been communicating to guests that “LACF wants every guest to have fun and be safe, especially in the carnival area. The fair is committed to the overall safety and security of our guests every day.”
LACF has a long-standing partnership with RCS, who Hernandez said “has an excellent safety record.” She emphasized that numerous procedures are utilized to ensure guest safety. “Rides are inspected prior to the opening of the fair by Cal OSHA, two independent safety consultant groups, and RCS personnel and are inspected every day.” LA County Fair has been posting to social media and doing interviews to make the public aware of their safety protocols.
MAKE A GATE ANNOUNCEMENT
Michael Bradley, chief executive officer, California State Fair, Paso Robles, Calif., said, “Our prayers and outreach are first and foremost to the family and friends of the people involved in the accident. Of course, the management team in Ohio are under a lot of pressure, and we wish them well during this trying time.”
Bradley said that at California Mid-Sate Fair they’re dedicated to safety. Their new carnival partner, Helm & Sons, issued a press release immediately following the Ohio event assuring guests that the rides were inspected thoroughly and regularly.
Cal Mid-State Fair also sent out a series of press releases that indicated safety practices and talked about Helm & Sons safety record. “We wanted to let everyone know we inspect each ride, no matter how often they are utilized, as soon as possible and get in front of a bad situation,” said Bradley. “All rides are inspected by DOSH, our insurance partner, and Cal Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA). Helm & Sons has a fulltime safety team on the clock 24/7.”
Helm & Sons also ran an audio recording at the entrance of the fair that explained the safety practices to the guests as they came through the gate.
PREPARE YOUR STAFF
The Minnesota State Fair, St. Paul, is opening Aug. 24. They run an independent midway and book all the rides in-house. “On the day of the incident, we heard from all the newspapers and TV and radio stations,” said Jerry Hammer, GM. “The question we had consistently was if we had that ride booked. We don’t have that ride booked here.”
“We laid out our ride safety protocols and let everyone know we have rigorous procedures in place,” he said. “We check them on the way in, once they are up, and then every day.”
Hammer said the messaging to the public consisted of a press release explaining the safety policy, and then the fair followed Calico’s advice and sent out pro-active messages surrounding the fair and other positive things about the fair.
“When we open, I’m sure it will come up and we’re training the whole team so they know what to say. Every member of the team will be ready to answer questions or respond to any concern a guest has about our rides and our safety standards,” said Hammer.
- by Brad Weissberg
- Published: August 8, 2017