Inspectors with fire marshal’s office visit Missouri State Fair to give rides a safety check

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SEDALIA, Mo. -- For many children, everything about amusement parks spells fun -- the flashing lights, spinning rides and even their sometimes scary names (Tower of Terror anyone?).

But Larry Watson knows those rides can also pose a deadly danger.

He's a state inspector for the Missouri Fire Marshal's Office. Watson and his crew are at the Missouri State Fair in Sedalia this week making sure every ride is safe.

FOX 4 caught up with him as he checked the safety bars on one ride.

"I'm checking to make sure these (knobs) don't get stuck (causing) the lap bar to unlatch when you close it," Watson explained.

Before he left that ride, he found two violations. There were exposed wires that could cause someone to be shocked, and part of the fence enclosing the ride was too close. A fence needs to be at least three feet from the ride so that people outside the fence can't touch the ride, and passengers on the ride can't touch anyone standing outside.

Watson said the ride would not be allowed to open until those violations were corrected. Unlike Kansas, Missouri inspectors conduct regular spot inspections of every carnival and amusement park in the state.

The Missouri State Fair also requires the carnival operator to hire a nationally certified third-party inspector to be onsite during the entire run of the fair. That's beyond what state law requires, but Missouri State Fair Director Mark Wolfe said he wants to make sure visitors are safe.

"When you are talking about public safety, I think (regulation) is a good thing," Wolfe said.

Inspectors were on site as each ride was being put together to make sure no parts were missing. While a camera crew watched, Jonathan Brooks of Wagner Consulting scaled a Ferris wheel to make sure every bolt was in place.

But inspectors said there are also things parents can do to keep their children safe. For starters, never put a child on a ride if he doesn't meet the height requirement. Those requirements exist to protect children from getting hurt.

Always let your child watch the ride before deciding whether to board it. Never push children to get on a ride they find scary. Experts say many accidents happen because of children trying to get off rides after they've started.

Look for a state inspection sticker (they are red) before letting your child use a red. Finally, make sure ride operators are actually paying attention. If they aren't, don't use it.

Although Missouri has a more comprehensive inspection program than Kansas, there is one ride Missouri state inspectors don't inspect: Water Slides. They are exempt from state law.

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