Despite accident, Midway vendor’s record excellent

Published 12:12 pm Wednesday, August 9, 2017

By Diana McFarland

Managing editor

The Isle of Wight County Fair has for years used Amusements of America for its midway rides — the same company that provided the ride involved in the recent death of a young Ohio man.

“Their track record is one of the best,” said Danny Byrum, chairman of the Isle of Wight County Fair Committee about why Amusements of America has been awarded the contract to provide the rides at the fair.

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New Jersey-based Amusements of America has provided the rides for years, with reference to its midway at the fair dating back to the 1990s, according to an old issue of The Smithfield Times. {mprestriction ids=”1,2,3,4,5,6″}

The fair usually has about 23-24 rides and the Fire Ball, the ride that broke apart at the Ohio State Fair, killing one and injuring seven, has been at the Isle of Wight County Fair in the past, Byrum said.

The Dutch company KMG, which manufactures the Afterburner, also known as the Fire Ball, has instructed carnival owners to stop its use, according to news reports.

The ride has six gondolas that seat 24 people and revolves at a speed of 15 revolutions per minute, according to the company’s website.

A video of the accident shot by a bystander shows an arm of the ride breaking off and people flying into the air, along with a loud scraping sound.

After performing an investigation of the ride, which was 18 years old, it was found that the gondola support beam had excessive corrosion which reduced the thickness of the beam’s wall, according to a statement released by KMG.

Byrum said the rides are inspected prior to the fair’s opening and the more aggressive rides receive a more vigorous look-over. The rides also receive a periodic re-inspection during the fair, which lasts four days, said Isle of Wight Assistant County Administrator Don Robertson.

County inspectors, who are certified by the state, do a visual inspection looking for cracks in the welds, metal fatigue, loose bolts, items that might come apart during operation and the overall mechanical integrity of the rides, Robertson said.

“The midways travel from fair to fair to fair and these things are in operation quite a bit. They’re being transported by truck and we don’t take for granted that everything is how it should be when it arrives,” he said.

Rides that did not pass inspection in the past were not allowed to operate, he said, adding that Amusements of America, as all vendors hired by the county, are required to carry liability insurance.

Byrum said the fair committee can request rides, but what arrives is often based on availability. The committee may also be able to ask that some rides not be at the fair, Byrum said, adding that the Fire Ball will likely not be included this year. 

According to the Washington Post, KMG has 43 Fire Ball rides around the world, including 11 in the United States.

Robertson said it is too late in the procurement process to get another midway provider, and besides, getting another vendor doesn’t mean the rides will be 100 percent safe.

Robertson said the ride vendor has as much interest in safe rides as the county does. ‘Their name is attached to the product,” he said.

Besides, if a ride is mechanical, there is always a risk — as there is with cars and airplanes, and those are inspected too, Byrum said.

“It can break. That’s the unfortunate side,” he said.

But in light of this latest tragedy, Byrum said, “the reality is we’re probably safer than we have ever been.”

The Isle of Wight County Fair is Sept. 14-17 this year.  {/mprestriction}