No retirement age for amusement rides in Ohio, officials say

CLEVELAND, OH (WOIO) - The state of Ohio does not keep track of the age of amusement park rides operated in the state. Officials said if a ride passes inspection and is granted a permit, it can operate in the state.

The state also has no records of how old rides that operate within the state are, according to the Ohio Department of Agriculture.

"A ride inspection ensures the ride is assembled, maintained and operated according to manufacturer's specifications. If a ride passes initial inspection and is granted a permit, it can operate in the State of Ohio," said Brett Gates, the deputy communications director for the state Department of Agriculture.

A car detached from a ride called the Fireball at the Ohio State Fair earlier this month, killing 18-year-old Tyler Jarrell and injuring seven others. The ride was built in 1998, fewer than 20 years ago.

Two decades is not old in the world of amusement parks, according to Robert Johnson, the president of the Outdoor Amusement Business Association, an advocacy group for the mobile amusement industry. He said there isn't a set retirement age for rides.

"As long as they are well-maintained and safe in terms of passing inspections as required by state agencies," Johnson said. "It's like an old car -- we still have Model Ts and Model As on the road."

"They can last literally decades," said Dennis Speigel, the president of Cincinnati based International Theme Park Service.

At Cedar Point, for example, the Midway Carousel is more than 100 years old, and the Blue Streak is more than 70 years old. Both are operational.

Both outside experts echoed the Department of Agriculture’s view that inspections and maintenance are more important than age.

"Every ride has to be looked at on its own merit and independently and the proper maintenance and analysis of those rides has to be done every year," said Speigel. He said that higher intensity rides require intense routine testing as well.  "Everything from sonograms, basically to magnaflexing, or x-raying the rides."

"There are many rides in our industry not just the carousel, which is a more docile experience, we have rides such as the Tilt-A-Whirl, that ride has been around for over 100 years," said Johnson. "There are many of their rides still operating in this country that came out back in the early 1900s -- again there is a certain nostalgia with the public in many rides."

While the rides themselves may not have retirement dates, components of the rides may have specific life spans.

"Industry standards require ride manufacturers to identify components of rides which do have a limited life so the operator can schedule the replacement of such components within their normal maintenance program," Colleen Mangone said in a statement. Mangone is the communications director for the International Association of Amusement Parks and Attractions.

Speigel said that when there is an accident involving an amusement park ride it is usually due to one of three thing, operator error, rider error or structural problem. He said he thinks the ride clearly suffered from some sort of structural problem, and he anticipates the investigation into what happened will be completed within the week.

Johnson said the Dutch manufacturer of the Fireball ride that failed at the State Fair last week did visit Ohio as a part of its investigation into what happened, and is now back in Holland looking at the situation with a team of engineers.

Johnson said that when a company buys a large ride like the Fireball, they are spending a lot of money.

"With that comes the understanding that the ride must be maintained in good operating order to maintain maximum safety," he said.

The company that operated the Fireball has a long, positive history in the amusement park community, according to Johnson.

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