Minn. Crews Train for 'Skyride' Rescue

Less than two weeks after a ride at the Wisconsin State Fair failed, stranding 200 riders, St. Paul firefighters were conducting their annual training at the Minnesota State Fair.


Don McClure, the owner of the Skyride attraction, brings fire crews to the fairgrounds a few weeks before the Minnesota State Fair kicks off. Over the course of the 10-day fair event, the ride attracts over 200,000 riders.

"In light of what happened at the state fair in Wisconsin, we were able to develop some new ideas to help mitigate the potential incident more effectively," said. St. Paul firefighter Mark O'Dell.

He was referring to the Aug. 5 incident at the Wisconsin State Fair in West Allis where a motor malfunction stranded 200 guests in the air. It took crews more than two and a half hours to remove everyone.

"It's something that's been done for years and it makes sense that they come out and train with it. You just never know when something can happen," McClure said. He said that the ride has only lost power twice and it was quickly switched over to back-up power to remove the guests. The back-up power system can run the ride at 25 percent speed to help remove any stranded riders.

"The only other thing that could really happen is a collision that would be caused by rambunctious patrons who try to swing the cabin," McClure said. "We had that once, we had a few guys in one of the cabins who were jumping up and down causing it to swing around." Once they were off the ride, they were taken by the police he said.

The training starts off with a tour of the building where riders board the cabin. McClure reviews the statics of the ride: it's 1,669 feet long and the highest point is just shy of 80 feet. The cabins, carried by heavy-duty cable, are made of steel and aluminum and can hold up to three people. They move at 560 feet per minute and 180 would be the maximum number of riders in the air at any given time.

"We review a lot of the safety points, such as the power system's lock-out/tag-out process and back-up power systems," O'Dell said. They also examine the cabin's safety and locking features, the cables and the safety platforms found on each tower throughout the ride.

The crews move to the fairgrounds to practice their cabin rescue skills.

Several ladder companies set up their aerials to access the Skyride at different points along the route.

"There are some areas where it will be tough to get a ladder truck set up. We need to consider other resources, such as cherry pickers from the utility companies," O'Dell said. "The best case scenario is that we can set up the ladder to remove the riders."

They drilled on placing the tower ladder's bucket adjacent to the cabin and secured it with webbing to make sure it doesn't swing around during rider removal. "We'll secure them with a ladder belt and have them slide down the four-foot ladder to the bucket."

According to O'Dell, if the aerial ladders can't access the stranded cabins, St. Paul's Rescue Squads may employ their rope rescue training. "They will work their way up the towers and deploy a rope system to help access and remove any of the passengers.

"One of the things we learned from Wisconsin was the idea of triaging the cars," O'Dell said. Crews can use bullhorns or PAs to contact the riders to see who needs to be removed immediately. "If we've got an elderly person, someone who is getting sick or is claustrophobic, we'd want to access them first."

On Aug. 27, the 12th annual Governors Fire Prevention Day takes place throughout the fairgrounds. The day-long event features fire and life safety programs, an explorers competition and parade. 

According to event organizer Dan Bernardy, "We'll be able to reach 75 to 80,00 people in a single day using all mediums to spread the message of fire prevention."

"It is a fun-filled, action-packed event, offering opportunities for families to learn about fire-safe behavior, fire prevention, safe escape from a fire, as well as technological improvements in burn treatment and firefighting equipment. "