Fairgrounds Fire Protection

Fairgrounds Fire Protection

Tented eating and entertainment area of large fair such as MidAmerica Fair pose a number of fire safety problems. Topeka’s Fire Station 5 is located on northeast corner of grounds. First-alarm response calls for three engines, aerial truck and three chiefsOne of two diesel fire trucks used by Royal American Shows traveling carnival. Truck is parked on station near high ride on fair midway. A second truck is parked on opposite end of midway. About 60 hand extinguishers are located within show grounds

LARGE PERMANENT fairgrounds provide a source of income, entertainment, and education to the citizens of the community. However to those charged with its protection from fire, there are problems. The local fire department must be concerned with all the hazards of local exhibits, livestock barns, adequate water supply, and reaction of the fairgoers to any fire.

The Topeka, Kans., Fire Department, under Chief C. F. Palmer, is faced each September by a typical situation as thousands of Kansans visit the Mid-America Fair. Fire Station No. 5 is located on the northeast corner of the fairgrounds. Engine Co. 5, a 750-gallon pumper, rolls from this station along with a battalion chief. An alarm from the fairgrounds calls for a response of three engines, an aerial truck, a battalion chief, the first assistant chief and the chief of department. During Fair Week, the normal response territory of Engine 5 is cut down.

There are nine hydrants on the fairgrounds proper and nine others on the streets immediately adjacent. The grandstand itself is all concrete; the only combustible materials are the roof, doors and gates, concession stands and exhibits in rooms underneath. Topeka fire inspectors are on duty during the fair checking eating stands for gas hookups and trash accumulations. A great hazard is always the straw-hav found in the livestock barns which, combined with careless smoking, could mean catastrophe.

Another problem for responding fire companies is that of adequate entrances for apparatus to the fairgrounds. Pedestrians and automobiles, lined up while drivers hunt for tickets, can seriously impede the arriving fire forces if the gates have not been cleared. And, on the grounds, pedestrian traffic on roadways may slow fire trucks. The fair crowds can become a panic-stricken mob, stampeding to get away from a fire scene or they can become spectators flocking about the area, making the maneuvering of apparatus and stretching of lines quite difficult.

Most fairs will also have a traveling carnival, with the usual rides and sideshows, adding to the fire protection picture. Largest of these is the Royal American Shows, owned and operated for three generations by the Carl J. Sedlemayer family. With over 1,200 employees, the Royal American traveling men and women cover 25,000 miles a year, playing all the larger state fairs in the Midwest, plus a number in Canada including the Calgary Stampede. They travel on their own train of 70 double-length railroad cars, including 25 Pullmans. The entertainers carry along their own sanitation and dining facilities as well as a complete machine and carpentry shop. The total value of this physical plant, if replaced at current market values, would run in the neighborhood of $2 1/2 million.

With this investment, Royal American Shows promote a policy of safety and fire protection which probably goes unnoticed by the average fair patron. Something that many do notice, however, is a Royal American fire truck. There are two of these, both custom-built and diesel-powered with 750-gallon booster tanks. One is stationed at each end of the midway. Four men are assigned as drivers and are on the midway at different times because of regular duties with various shows. In case of fire, these trucks are brought to the scene and other employees act as volunteer firemen until the arrival of the regular city fire forces. Royal American officials stress the point that these trucks are only first-aid units and are not designed to replace municipal fire departments. The trucks are used also to supply water where needed, i.e., eating stands, diesel plants, washing down sideshow fronts, etc. They are used to haul wagons to and from the show-train. Some 140 pieces of equipment are loaded on the train.

About 60 hand extinguishers of various types are to be found within Royal American property, especially in the diesel plants which provide light and power for the midway, in the tented shows where large numbers of people are gathered, and on the Pullman cars.

The main fire danger seen by the midway managers is the discarding of cigarettes from one of the “high rides” over a tented area. Also, there is danger, when fireworks are used in grandstand productions, of their being carried by high winds over tents.

There has never been a serious fire incident in the past 30 yours of Royal American history. Perhaps one reason for this is a safety-conscious management which has posted No Smoking signs in tented shows and has all wiring (3-phase and grounded) checked periodically for bareness. Nothing but electric motors are used and these are checked weekly. Foremen of “high rides” are instructed to request smokers to discard their cigarettes. These same problems of fire control, prevention and safety are to be found whether it be a county fair or a large exposition.

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