Midway rides go up for The Great Frederick Fair as Hurricane Florence moves south
Rain may fall on The Great Frederick Fair, but carnival rides are up and scheduled to open Friday.
Hurricane Florence was downgraded from a Category 4 to a Category 3 storm on Wednesday with maximum sustained winds of 125 mph by the early afternoon. The storm is predicted to make landfall in North Carolina and South Carolina sometime between Wednesday and Thursday and miss Maryland.
Rain accumulation predictions for Frederick County have also gone down, said National Weather Service meteorologist Isha Renta. The seven-day forecast predicts Frederick County will receive between 1¾ and 2 inches of rain between now and Sept. 19.
The southward turn of Hurricane Florence was a positive development for the Fair Board, which is putting on the 156th Great Frederick Fair between Friday and Sept. 22 at the Frederick Fairgrounds.
“We hope to be be able to operate the fair as we always do,” spokeswoman Karen Crum Nicklas said on Wednesday.
The week of agricultural events will include dozens of rides from Reithoffer Shows, which were almost fully installed Wednesday.
Two carnival ride inspectors from the Maryland Department of Labor, Licensing and Regulation walked the track of a new roller coaster called the Rampage to check connections, pins, riding cars and safety restraints on the ride. A few deficiencies were identified, and are to be fixed before rides open at 5 p.m. on Friday.
“Anything that’s open to the public, we inspected,” said Commissioner Matthew Helminiak.
As the labor commissioner, Helminiak oversees the Amusement Ride Safety Inspection Unit, which employs seven full-time workers year-round and is charged with inspecting carnival rides each time they are set up in the state.
The Great Frederick Fair, Maryland State Fair and Montgomery County Agricultural Fair have the largest carnival ride displays in the state. Most of the rides at The Great Frederick Fair were in Ohio last, and inspectors had been at the fairgrounds for several days assessing rides while they were on the trailer, constructed and tested.
The success of the multi-day inspection process is evident in the state’s low accident rate. In 2017, there were 0.00031 accidents per inspection, and so far in 2018, there had been 0.00063 per inspection. That translates to about three accidents this year, which required “greater than first aid,” Helminiak said.
Bumps, scrapes, trips and falls encompass the “accidents,” and most occurred while the person was entering or exiting the ride, he said.
“The rides are so safe now, it really is extremely rare for someone to be hurt while riding a ride,” Helminiak said.
The one unknown variable remains the rain.
Between one-quarter and one-half inch of rain is predicted between Thursday night and Friday evening, and an additional one-tenth to one-quarter inch between Friday night and Saturday evening, according to the National Weather Service.
Depending on where Hurricane Florence stalls over the Carolinas and how its external bands of rain move over the region, Frederick County could see moments of heavy rain, Renta said. Residents are encouraged to monitor the forecast through the week.
“The Fair Board is closely monitoring the weather forecast and working closely with security and the Sheriff’s Department and the carnival. Our number one priority is the safety and security of our guests, exhibitors, vendors and participants. The fair board will make the decision they feel is best,” Nicklas said by email on Tuesday.
She could recall only once — during the 150th Great Frederick Fair — shutting down the fair to the public due to weather.
In the event of severe weather, visitors should seek shelter in buildings 9, 12, 13 and 31 or any of the block restrooms, Nicklas said. Not all barns are grounded against lightning, and are not appropriate shelters during some storms.
There is no state rule against operating carnival rides in the rain, and the Department of Labor, Licensing and Regulation does not have jurisdiction over ride operation outside of certifying the ride to operate after setup. It’s up to the operators to use common sense, Helminiak said.
As a father of three teenagers, he said he was comfortable letting his kids go on the rides. The Great Frederick Fair will be the sixth carnival his kids have attended this summer.
“If they’re open and they passed inspection, they’re safe,” Helminiak said.