Amusement equipment must earn ticket to ride in Iowa

MIKE WISER Journal Des Moines Bureau | Posted: Sunday, August 4, 2013 7:30 am

DES MOINES | Consider it the green ticket of approval.

Of the roughly 1,700 pieces of amusement equipment set up — either permanently or temporarily — across the state of Iowa, each needs to display an up-to-date green ticket that proves a state inspector has checked it out.

If the machine is suspect, or if there’s no proof of liability insurance, the state inspector won’t affix the green ticket. And that means the ride can’t run — at least legally.

“It’s usually posted up by the operator,” said Jim Borwey, manager of the Iowa Workforce Development’s Elevator, Boiler & Amusement Ride Bureau. “If they don’t have that, it means they can’t operate.”

13 INSPECTORS

Borwey, who’s been with the state since 2005, oversees 13 inspectors. Each one is certified through the National Association of Amusement Ride and Safety Officials, and they’re based in different parts of the state.

He acknowledges it’s a big job, one that is coming under more scrutiny after a fatal accident two weeks ago at a Six Flags amusement park in Texas and right before one of the largest traveling carnivals in the state sets up for the Iowa State Fair.

But, he said, it’s manageable. He added the 13th inspector last month, and they’ve already started inspecting some of the early arrivals at the state fairgrounds.

Kerry Koonce, spokeswoman for Iowa Workforce Development, said inspection schedules are different depending on the type of amusement.

Permanent parks, such as Adventureland in Altoona or Arnolds Park in Arnolds Park, are checked each season.

Traveling carnivals are checked the first time they set up in the state for the year. For example, the Evans United carnival that serves several cities in Iowa — including the Mississippi Valley Fair in Davenport, which ends Sunday — wouldn’t have to have its Go Gator checked again if it set up in another Iowa town previously in 2013.

But it could, Borwey said.

“We do have occasional spot checks at any time,” he said.

Laura Woodburn, public relations director for the National Association of Amusement Ride and Safety Officials, said every state carries out its inspections differently, and although she did not want to comment on Iowa’s policies, she said “it sounds similar to what other states have.”

The national association has three levels of inspectors and more than 1,000 inspectors with active certification.

Woodburn said anytime there is an accident like the one in Texas questions about safety and professionalism always follow.

“Right now we don’t know what happened in Texas, and it would be inappropriate for me to comment until the investigation is complete,” she said.

OVERSIGHT

The Iowa State Fair has contracted with Charles Panacek’s Belle City Amusements for the midway rides for the past four years.

“They know their game,” Iowa State Fair CEO Gary Slater said.

Inspection reports provided by Workforce Development show no code violations from the last inspection conducted in 2012.

The reports essentially are a single page that show the most recent tag date, inspection date, inspector name and any notes the inspector made at the time. Each ride gets its own page — sometimes two — dedicated to it. It includes notes of previous inspections as well.

For example, on Aug. 11, 2011, a team of inspectors, including Borwey, made a note to “repair remaining foot bottoms to remove all parts that have been welded” on a ride called the Scrambler. The problem was presumably taken care of because on Aug. 9, 2012, Inspector Bruno Burriola gave the Scrambler a passing inspection.

“The state inspectors are kind of the referees,” Slater said. “Belle City does a great job, but we have the inspectors to make sure. It has to be a partnership.”

Although the reports are public records that are provided upon request, it sometimes takes several days for Workforce Development to produce them.

They’re also not digitized, nor can they be found on the state’s website, as some other states, such as North Carolina, have done with their inspection reports. Some states, including Delaware, even post food safety reports online.

“It’s something we hope to do,” said Stephen Slater, deputy labor commissioner. “Right now, we don’t have the capability, but we’re getting a new system, so maybe next year.”