Inspectors make sure Jacksonville Fair rides are safe

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – The Greater Jacksonville Fair opens Wednesday with several new attractions and amusement rides.

An estimated 400,000 people attended the fair over the 12 days it was open last year, and this year the numbers are expected to be even bigger.

Meanwhile, the state is working ensure the rides are safe for everyone.

Ride inspector Hunter Lyles examined every single nut and bolt of the Cliff Hanger ride Wednesday.

"Before it's even set up, we're crawling on them and looking at everything that you can't see when you put them together," he said.

Lyles is one of 15 fair ride inspectors with the Florida Department of Agriculture responsible for safety checks at fairgrounds from Miami to Tallahassee. With dozens of rides to inspect before the fair opens in Jacksonville, Lyles can't afford to cut corners, paying attention to every small detail.

"When you get down to your technical stuff, you've got microswitches or check switches on your lap bars or restraints, and you're checking those individually to make sure when you raise one the ride won't run, and you do the whole ride like that," Lyles said.

So far this year, state inspectors say they've examined more than 6,000 amusement rides. Eighty-one of them were issued stop operation orders because the ride was malfunctioning or wasn't permitted properly.

The good news is there haven't been any injuries or reported problems with rides in recent years at the Jacksonville Fair, nor any in Putnam and St. Johns counties.

The safety inspections don't stop with the just the amusement rides. Fair organizers are ramping up their efforts inside the stables this year to shield the public from infectious diseases.

"The one thing we've taken to the next level this year is safety in our barns to prevent from infectious materials, bacteria," said Gayle Hart, of the Jacksonville Fair. "So we are asking for no strollers, baby bottles, pacifiers to go into the barns. We have a stroller corral."

The fair runs until Nov. 17. For more information about this year's fair, including fair ticket prices, show schedules and operation times, visit JacksonvilleFair.com.

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