Mass. Targets Amusement Park Safety

October 12, 2004

Massachusetts would spend an extra $1.7 million to hire additional amusement ride inspectors, force ride operators to boost liability insurance from $1 million to $5 million and create stricter education requirements for inspectors under a plan unveiled by Gov. Mitt Romney.

The proposal comes several weeks after a fatal accident at a Shrewsbury church fair on a ride known as the Sizzler. One passenger died and two others were injured.

It was the second fatal accident on an amusement ride in Massachusetts this year. On May 1, a man died after tumbling from the “Superman, Ride of Steel” coaster at Six Flags New England in Agawam.

Massachusetts will also begin requiring traveling amusement park rides to display an inspection certificate showing how often they have been inspected and in which state, according to Public Safety Commissioner Thomas Gatzunis.

Each ride will also be inspected by a state inspector every time they set up at a new carnival, Gatzunis said. The state also relies on so-called “third party” inspectors hired by insurance companies to help guarantee the safety of amusement rides.

“We are national leaders in building and fire safety. We must become national leaders in carnival and amusement park safety as well,” Gatzunis said at a public hearing.

The state has already taken steps to improve safety at carnivals, Gatzunis. Inspections have shut down rides and delayed the opening of one carnival by a day, he said.

Massachusetts also belongs to a volunteer network of states that share information about carnival rides. The Monday after the Shrewsbury accident, Gatzunis’ office sent out information to other states, many of which shut down and inspected similar Sizzler rides at their carnivals, he said.

Gatzunis said he will also head up a task force designed to come up with additional recommendations to improve carnival safety. The task force will look at regulations in other states and propose an overhaul of Massachusetts’ regulations, he said.

Representatives of carnivals said they agreed with many of the recommendations, although they questioned Romney’s proposal to boost liability insurance from $1 million to $5 million.

Equally important is enforcing existing safety laws, according to Gregory Chiecko of the New England Association of Parks and Attractions.

“We need to look at the statutes and regulations to make sure that what’s currently on the books is being done,” he said.

Romney’s plan calls for the hiring of five new engineering inspectors for all amusement devices including traveling carnival rides and three new investigators to help process complaints.

State and federal officials are still investigating the Sept. 19 fatality near St. Mary’s Church and parochial school.

Two bolts snapped on the Sizzler, causing a passenger car to come apart in midair. Andrew R. Fohlin, 38, died from his injuries, and two other people, David Mills, 48, and Diane Derosier, 44, were injured.

Gatzunis and Public Safety Secretary Ed Flynn declined to discuss the details of the accident at a public hearing Thursday, citing the ongoing investigation.

Copyright 2004 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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