"I was scared to death," explained Chandler Miller, after he was back on his own two feet, several dozen yards away from a ride a the Colorado State Fair. Normally, such a phrase would be expected at a carnival that totes such intense and popular rides as the Power Tower, the Fire Ball, and of course the Freak Out.
Miller isn't being flippant, he really was scared for his life. It turns out, he and his friends were on the Freak Out when it stopped operating normally. According to Miller, a few minutes into the ride, it stop twirling and simply swung back and forth. Most of the riders knew something was wrong, and there was nothing they could do about it.
Safety devices kept all of the riders in their seats, as they were designed. Once the ride’s momentum finally stopped swinging them back and forth, carnival crew members had to manually release all of them from their seats. It took several minutes, leaving some of the riders a little anxious. Not all of the riders were as affected as Miller was.
Ride safety at the Colorado State Fair is taken very seriously by everyone involved. Crabtree Amusements owns the carnival and operates it. Their employees inspect every ride daily, according to the president of the company, Patrick Crabtree. "Maintenance and safety, that's just an ongoing process, it's something that never quits, it's always going," Crabtree said.
In addition to the carnival’s own inspection the state has their own inspector take a look, and the fair hires a third, independent, inspector as well. The ultimate goal is to try and ensure that no one gets hurt at the fair. For years, they've all been successful.
That success has nurtured a trust between fair-goers and the carnival. Many families look forward to attending this carnival because they trust their children will be safe riding the attractions there. "It means a lot to us, we wouldn't be here with here if it was anything else," said Daniel Hall.
According to Crabtree, the majority of injuries, large and small, carnivals like the one at the State Fair see are a result of human error on the part of the riders.
Many people become injured simply by not enjoying the ride as it was meant to be enjoyed, he said. Horseplay, shifting in their seats to look behind them, even trying to give the person they're with a kiss, have all been the cause for injuries in the past.
Crabtree went on to explain, one of the most dangerous situations facing a carnival patron is to force a person to ride something they don't want to ride. Their anxiety over the situation may cause them to react in ways that may disrupt the safety measures. The result can be injury to themselves or someone else.
Crabtree Amusements has also instituted policies to ensure the safety of their patrons. Height restrictions are strictly adhered to, often causing tension with their patrons. According to Crabtree, rules are enforced for everyone’s safety. The way he looks at it, his family and friends ride the same rides as his patrons and he doesn't want to put anyone's life at risk.
As for the Freak Out, it was simply a matter of too much heat. High temperatures combined with the sun beating down on the compartment that housed the rides computer operating system caused it to overheat and trip a circuit. With a few adjustments, and a cooler setting, the ride was able to reopen, and is back to thrilling riders the way it was intended.