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Kyle Potter, The Forum, Published July 08 2013

Cass County not requiring fair to file inspections paperwork

WEST FARGO – Cass County has not maintained the oversight mandated by the state to ensure carnival rides at the Red River Valley Fair have been properly inspected.

Fair and county officials say there’s no reason to think any of the 45 mechanical rides at this year’s fair are unsafe – the company running the fair’s Ferris wheels, carousels and roller coasters inspects every ride before opening each day.

But state law also requires ride operators to file with the county an affidavit that each ride has adequate insurance and has been inspected by the insurance underwriter.

Until now, that final step has gone unnoticed.

“Nobody has ever asked us for those papers,” said Cathy Murphy of Murphy Brothers Exposition, now in its fifth year of running the Red River Valley Fair’s midway rides. Murphy said the company has all of that information ready and available.

Bryan Schulz, the fair’s general manager, said the fair’s board of directors has Murphy Brothers’ affidavit of insurance but not for its insurance inspection. Cass County has never dealt with that paperwork for any of the fair’s rides, said state’s attorney Birch Burdick.

Because the fair board is authorized by the county, it may be an adequate agency to oversee the carnival rides. But Burdick said if he were to “dot my i’s and cross my t’s,” he’d direct that information through the Cass County Commission.

Schulz said the question of oversight won’t disrupt this year’s fair but will need to be addressed after it concludes. The Red River Valley Fair opens today at 11 a.m. and runs through Sunday.

Murphy Brothers ride operators will comb over every fair ride each morning, doing a test run and checking “every bolt and pin,” said Gary Zaitshik, who oversees ride safety for the company. Their inspection sheet calls for a check on 14 different items, from the tightness of nuts and bolts to making sure there’s enough lubrication.

“Safety is our No. 1 priority. It’s non-negotiable,” Zaitshik said. He said that’s reflected in a good track record with few injuries and no major incidents over the years.

The Amusement Safety Organization, which tracks safety at carnivals throughout the nation, reported 11 safety incidents on Murphy Brothers rides from 2004 to 2011. Three children were treated for scrapes and bruises at the 2008 Tulsa State Fair after a lock came undone in a train ride, causing the car to tip over, according to a report from Fox23.com.

There’s a 1-in-24 million chance of being seriously injured on an amusement park ride in the United States, according to the International Association of Amusement Parks and Attractions, and a 1-in-

750 million chance of being killed.

While North Dakota requires inspections by a private company, other state governments – like in Murphy Brothers’ home state of Oklahoma – do their own investigations. Six states don’t regulate amusement rides at all: Alabama, Mississippi, Montana, Nevada, Utah and Wyoming.

Murphy Brothers also operates the rides at the North Dakota State Fair in Minot, where fair manager Renae Korslien said they bring in a third-party inspector for daily inspections. Murphy said that’s feasible for larger state fairs, but the cost makes it unrealistic at the Red River Valley Fair and other smaller fairs.

“We welcome that,” Zaitshik said of third-party or government inspectors. “It’s just another set of eyes.”

Readers can reach Forum reporter Kyle Potter at (701) 241-5502