Inspector: Fair rides undergo thorough scrutiny

Fairgoers prepare for the drop in the Super Shot II at the Shenandoah County Fairgrounds in August. A Super Shot ride at the Frederick County Fair fell in July, injuring a fairgoer. Rich Cooley/Daily

With the Shenandoah County Fair at full tilt, specialized amusement ride inspectors are called into action to check  just about every inch of the rides that will provide fairgoers with entertainment.

One such inspector is county building official Mike Dellinger, who, along with Tim Ferguson, senior commercial inspector for the department, served as ride inspectors for this year’s fair in Woodstock.

Dellinger described the scope of what he and other ride inspectors look for when conducting their inspections, beginning with an evaluation of the ride’s condition prior to inspection.

“Anytime an amusement device comes in, the ride owner provides an application with the list of all the rides and serial numbers and manufacturers a minimum of five days before the event,” he said. “We require that information because once we receive that we check the rides and see if there’s any safety bulletins that have been issued by the ride manufacturer. We verify that there are no outstanding safety bulletins.”

The inspectors go so far as to inspect the latent areas of the rides, where sometimes crucial pieces of its mechanics reside.

Michael Dellinger, Shenandoah County building official, watches the Full Tilt ride during the Shenandoah County Fair on Saturday night. Rich Cooley/Daily

“The second thing we do, there are some rides that have hidden parts that we can’t see,” Dellinger said. “The ride manufacturer and the insurance companies require what we call non-destructive testing. We use an X-ray machine, ultrasonic or a magnet particle.”

The next steps include actions that one would expect, including inspecting the condition and tightness of bolts and fasteners as well as the state of belts, chains and restraint systems. Also checked are electrical components as well as any hydraulic or pneumatic systems.

Further inspected are the areas where patrons will be getting in and out of the ride. Inspectors look for anything that could pinch, cut or catch riders’ hair.

Dellinger said that amusement ride accidents caused by inspector, ride operator or manufacturer neglect are extremely rare.

“The majority of the malfunctions that are reported, I’d say between 90 and 99 percent of the time it’s a patron-related accident,” he said. “It’s not the ride itself, it’s caused by patron error. There’s also a law in Virginia that says anyone who goes to an amusement ride in the state, you must follow the rules.”

Dellinger explained the rigorous process of becoming certified as a ride inspector.

“To be an amusement device inspector in the state of Virginia, you have to be certified through the state before you can perform those inspections,” he said. “You need a year’s worth of experience with a mentor first before you can even come to class. The class is four days; it’s 32 hours. The fifth day is the national certification test. It’s not an open book test like a building inspector test. The amusement device test is a timed test and if you do not pass it you have to wait before you can take it again.”

A number of amusement ride-related accidents have been reported this summer across the country, including one last month at the Frederick County Fair where a woman was seriously injured after falling from a ride called the Super Shot.

Dellinger said that the Super Shot ride is not an exceptionally dangerous ride and that a ride by that same name is at the Shenandoah County Fair, although not the same exact ride.

“It was just a freak accident that happened,” Dellinger said of the Frederick County Fair accident. “I checked that ride (the one at the Shenandoah County Fair) personally from top to bottom. I always say that I’ll get on it and ride it to prove it to you it’s safe. I wouldn’t put a (inspection) sticker on a ride I wouldn’t let my family go on.”

Contact staff writer Nathan Budryk at 540-465-5137 ext. 155, or nbudryk@nvdaily.com