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N.D. rides not regulated

Standing under the towering Ring of Fire ride at the Red River Valley Fair on Tuesday, Jacob Lingl watched as his older brothers spun upside down and around.

Standing under the towering Ring of Fire ride at the Red River Valley Fair on Tuesday, Jacob Lingl watched as his older brothers spun upside down and around.

"That scares me," said the Frazee, Minn., boy who was just shy of the 52-inch height requirement for the popular ride.

His mom, Michelle, nodded in agreement, keeping her eyes fixed upward. Even so, Michelle said she feels like the rides are safe - no matter how scary or stomach-churning some may be.

North Dakota is one of eight states that don't regulate amusement park rides, according to the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission.

In contrast, Alaska requires a $1 million insurance policy, and inspections are done by the Department of Labor. In Arizona, rides must be inspected by a private agency or insurance company.


But just because North Dakota doesn't have regulations like some states - other than a required electrical inspection by the State Electrical Board - it doesn't mean the rides are any less safe, said John Hanschen, co-owner of the Mighty Thomas Carnival.

There are daily inspections on the 30 or so rides at the Red River Valley Fair, and Thomas Carnival employees are always listening and looking for sounds and signs that could signal a problem, Hanschen said.

"We have to watch every minute of the day," he said. "You don't want anything to happen."

Test runs also are done in the morning before anyone gets on the rides, he said.

Even so, Hanschen recognizes amusement park rides have been under added scrutiny recently, after the death last week of a 4-year old at Walt Disney World in Florida. The child had been on the ride "Mission: Space."

In addition to the safety inspections conducted by carnival workers and supervisors at the Red River Valley Fair, each ride has its own set of regulations intended to keep people safe.

For example, people with high blood pressure, heart trouble, back or neck injuries and those who are pregnant are prohibited from getting on the whirling Tornado ride. A sign near the gate also says "exceptionally large people may not be able to ride."

Other rides, like the Ring of Fire, have height restrictions.


And if there is an accident, the fair's grounds crew and Cass County Sheriff's Department officers are there to help, said Bruce Olson, fair manager.

Olson said he has full confidence in the Mighty Thomas Carnival and applauds the company's work. He said he wouldn't allow them to keep coming back if they were anything but safe.

"They wouldn't be in the industry if they didn't have good equipment," he said. "They just wouldn't be here."

The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission has jurisdiction over mobile rides such as those operated by Thomas Carnival. The commission doesn't have authority over fixed-site rides like those at Disney World.

Thomas Carnival was founded in 1928 in Lennox, S.D., and now is based in Austin, Texas. Before setting up in West Fargo last week, it was in Bismarck. It heads next to Duluth, Minn.

As for the famous fair food, it does have to adhere to standards set by the state Division of Food and Lodging. Booths not run by a nonprofit, public-spirited organization must be licensed with the state.

The Red River Valley Fair continues through Sunday. Gate admission is free today in celebration of the fair's 100th anniversary.

Readers can reach Forum reporter Mary Jo Almquist at (701) 241-5531

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