State requires only 1 independent inspection per year for amusem - WSMV News 4

State requires only 1 independent inspection per year for amusement rides

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It’s been less than a month since three girls fell from a Ferris wheel at a county fair in East Tennessee.

Authorities suggested a mechanical failure was to blame, and one of the three girls who fell suffered a traumatic brain injury.

The Channel 4 I-Team started investigating how often rides at mobile fairs are inspected.

The state only requires companies to conduct one independent inspection a year for amusement devices – despite the fact that these rides are taken down and reassembled dozens of times.

Currently, there are five local fairs taking place across Tennessee, including the Robertson County Fair.

Kissel Entertainment is the company that operates the rides at the Robertson County Fair.

Inspection reports filed with the Tennessee Department of Labor and Workforce Development show the Ferris wheel was examined by a third-party inspector on March 29 in Alabama.

Since then, records show Kissel Entertainment worked 11 other fairs in Tennessee.

“It’s been used a whole lot since then,” said Melissa Baltazar, who was attending the fair with her family.

Other reports provided by Kissel Entertainment show their third-party inspector looked at most of the rides at the Robertson County Fair in late March or early April.

Besides the 11 other fairs, the I-Team found Kissel has worked six other fairs in three different states since March 29.

But beyond the state’s requirements, who is making sure these rides are safe?

The owner of Kissel Entertainment sent the I-Team a statement that reads in part:

“Kissel Entertainment complies with multiple state and third party inspections throughout the year, in addition to our company’s daily, weekly, monthly and annual inspections from our thoroughly-trained staff.”

Critics said relying on self-policing may not be enough.

“Every time you take something apart and put it back together, there’s risk for some sort of malfunctioning happening,” said Tracy Mehan, manager of translational research at Nationwide Children’s Hospital in Columbus.

Mehan worked on a 2013 study that looked at how often children got hurt on amusement rides over a 20-year period.

It found during the summer months, 20 children per day went to the hospital for injuries related to amusement rides.

Mehan is calling for federal regulations that could standardize varying state standards.

She said the more times rides are inspected between different fairs, the better.

“If you're not looking at it every time, there's a chance something happened in between the last time something was inspected and now,” she said.

Three girls fell from the Ferris wheel at the Greene County Fair this month after rivets in their gondola came loose, according to inspectors.

The state said it allowed the ride to operate based on a third-party inspection out of Indiana six weeks earlier.

“How can you assure people across the state that the rides they want to go on are safe?” asked reporter Alanna Autler.

“There are no assurances in life,” said Chris Cannon, a spokesman for the Tennessee Department of Labor and Workforce Development. “There’s nothing guaranteed in life, but the goal of this department is to make sure the amusement devices in the state of Tennessee are safe and operable and as far as the law goes, we are doing everything to make sure that is the case.”

So how does Tennessee compare with neighboring states?

In North Carolina, state inspectors must check rides at every location.

But states like Mississippi and Alabama have no laws regulating inspections.

Some fairs go beyond Tennessee law.

Amusements of America, the operator for the Wilson County Fair, hires an additional safety consultant.

Jerry Smithson, of Amusement Park Management, said he checks the rides at least twice a day.

“I mean, let's face facts, it’s their business,” Smithson said. “Why would they want something to break and hurt somebody to put them out of business?”

For every ride at the Wilson County Fair, the I-Team found the state relied on an inspection from July 27 in Columbus to approve their permits.

Amusements of America worked two fairs in Tennessee before arriving in Wilson County.

Mitchell Brady, who was attending the Wilson County Fair with his family, said he’s comfortable with that.

“That's pretty fair, I would say,” he said.

But another parent, Tiffany Bobo, said the state should revert to overseeing its own inspections.

“It's ridiculous. This is supposed to be a great memory, and whether someone you love get hurts or not, just the thought of it ruins it for everybody, so I hope they tighten up on that,” Bobo said.

Organizers for the Robertson County Fair said they have no record of recent injuries caused by mechanical failures.

Organizers for the Wilson County Fair said there has not been a single ride-related injury at that fair since the mid-1980s.

Until this month, the state did not verify the rides that were properly permitted and inspected were actually the rides appearing at county fairs.

Cannon said that changed after the Greene County incident.

Now, companies must submit a picture of a ride’s serial number, along with a permit application and inspection record.

The state stopped handling its own inspections two years ago.

In 2014, a state audit raised questions about the Amusement Device Unit and how it handled inspections. Cannon said the unit suffered from a lack of funding.

Lawmakers recently approved nearly half a million dollars for the unit, funds that went into effect July 1.

But the state will still not inspect amusement devices. Cannon said that money will go toward handling permit and inspection records.

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