In the wake of a man's death July 26 on a ride at the Ohio State Fair, Howard County Fair Association president Mickey Day said Maryland's rigorous ride inspection process should ease concerns of county fairgoers.
Maryland Department of Labor, Licensing and Regulation inspectors were expected to be at the Howard County Fairgrounds beginning Aug. 2 to continue ride inspections before the fair's midway opens to the public at noon Saturday.
A ride at the Ohio State Fair, called the Fire Ball, fell apart on July 26 and threw a section of its riders into the air, killing one man and injuring seven people. The Fire Ball is a swinging ride that was manufactured by KMG, a company based in the Netherlands.
A day after the death at the Ohio State Fair, Maryland DLLR officials were called to re-inspect a similar ride in Ocean City called the Freak Out, also manufactured by KMG. The ride passed inspection and was reopened on July 28.
The county's midway operator, Deggeller Attractions, has a ride called the Fire Ball, but it is not the same one as at the Ohio State Fair, Day said. The county fair's Fire Ball is a single-loop roller coaster, formerly known as the Ring of Fire.
Deggeller Attractions, based in Stuart, Fla., provides rides to fairs and carnivals along the east coast, including the Maryland and Virginia state fairs.
"They don't even have any rides that are manufactured by KMG," Day said. "In my experience over the years, we have had some rides that have been delayed, and many times it's because an electric wire was not covered properly or something like that. It has been minor."
Theresa Blaner, a spokeswoman for the state DLLR, said state inspectors are often at the fairgrounds during a ride's construction and always complete a final inspection before they open to the public. Blaner described the state ride inspection process as "rigorous and thorough."
"For all of the traveling carnivals and fairs, every single time a ride is brought to a new location, our inspectors are out there inspecting it for safety and making sure that it is good to go," Blaner said. "If it passes inspection, it receives a certificate that includes the location of the inspection. Everyone that rides can see that inspection notice."
There have been 37 ride accidents across the state in the past 10 years, Blaner said, ranging from cuts that require stitches to broken bones. No deaths occurred in the past seven years, but Blaner said there was no record prior to 2010.
"Closing rides is extremely rare," she said. "When we close a ride, it is temporary and usually results in having to order a part after an inspection. When we point at an item of concern, [ride owners] immediately take any steps necessary to close the ride. It's not a mandated close; they're onboard with the safety protocol and shut it down."
Jim Ingram, a spokesman for Deggeller Attractions, said its operators also perform daily inspections on rides, which include a checklist specific to each ride. A supervisor must then sign off before operations begin.
"Luckily, Maryland has one of the greatest ride inspection programs anywhere in the country; they do a very good job," Ingram said. "We're looking forward to a good run here in Howard County."
Any time an injury occurs on a ride and requires treatment at a hospital, Day said the ride is immediately shut down and reviewed by state inspectors before it is reopened.
The fair board as well as 550 to 600 volunteers are preparing for the weekend debut of the 72nd annual Howard County Fair, Day said, and as usual, turnout depends on the weather.
"We believe there will be a good crowd," he said. "If it's too hot or it's raining, it hurts our attendance, but if it's good weather, people will be there."
The fair will run Saturday, Aug. 5 through Saturday, Aug. 12 from 8 a.m. to 11 p.m., daily. Admission is $5 for guests, ages 10 and up; $2 for seniors, ages 62 and up; and free for children under age 10.
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Free parking is available at 2210 Fairground Road in West Friendship, accessible from Exit 80 on Interstate 70.