On April 10, the beloved Deno’s Wonder Wheel amusement park in Coney Island will reopen for the summer season. But before that, there is a lot of preparatory work to do.
The park has been a Coney Island staple since the Wonder Wheel opened in 1920, and ever since the Vourderis family took over the expanded park, safety has been their number one priority. With many rides standing the test of time (many of the park’s kiddie rides date back to the 1950s), it’s important that rides are kept in top condition so they’re safe for guests.
To achieve this goal, the Department of Buildings (DOB) conducts thorough inspections of each ride several times a year to ensure ride safety.
“Our top priority at the Department is the safety of our fellow New Yorkers, which is why we are not going to let the rides operate in our city without first getting the green light from us,” the commissioner said per Acting DOB, Constadino Sirakis, PE “Whether at Coney Island or at small street fairs, our safety inspections are an important step in ensuring New Yorkers can enjoy the rides safely in the spring and in summer.
“Safety is the top priority in our business. I always say we’re in the business of safety, not fun,” said Dennis Vourderis, owner of Deno’s Wonder Wheel amusement park. “The first thing you see us doing is checking things, rechecking things, replacing things, upgrading. Our industry is very safety-focused. Accidents happen, but we do our best to keep security as perfect as possible.“
Once a ride is inspected, it receives a tag from the Department of Buildings, giving it the green light to operate. Each tag is good for 120 days, which means the DOB will come back to inspect the ride to clean it up for the rest of the season. If there is a problem with the ride before the tag expires, the date of birth will come earlier.
“It’s technically their license, when our inspectors are here we audit the operator,” said John Mingoia, elevator supervising inspector at DOB. “We also need to make sure these cards are visible to us. God forbid there is an accident or something like that, we have the information right away.
Each ride gets an in-depth scan of every spot on the ride. With the Wonder Wheel itself, for example, there are many steps to ensure the iconic ride is ready for the summer season.
“We inspect every bucket, we inspect all the gears, the pinion, then we have the engine room, all the handles,” Mingoia said. “Every car is inspected, doors, locks, welds, all that. All emergency stop and emergency backup switches, [the park has] emergency rescue protocols. It’s pretty much the same routine on every ride.
“The Wonder Wheel itself has a fantastic safety record. We’re doing our best, it’s the best we can do,” Vourderis added.
All rides are checked for sharp edges to ensure no one can cut themselves on any part of the ride.
Another example is the Thunderbolt – not the big Thunderbolt, the smaller one. This Thunderbolt is inspected to ensure that all locking bars are secure and every mechanical part is working. Underneath, gears and machinery are greased to ensure the ride is smooth.
Bumper cars are turned over and inspected for any holes or frayed wires, and inspectors check that all seat belts are secure and that the mechanisms that secure the cars all work.
In addition to the rides, the DOB will come in periodically to make sure the ride operators are doing what they are supposed to do while the rides are in motion.
“When we get here, we’ll see the operator pay attention to driving. That means he’s not on his phone, he has to stay fully focused on the ride itself. They are supposed to understand English or at least the word no, if they can’t they have to bring someone here,” Mingoia said. “Either you will tell Denis to take another operator, otherwise we have to close it. We don’t want to do that, that’s not what we intend to do.
Out of season, the rides are meticulously stored and maintained so they can operate the following season. Parts of many rides and attractions sit below the park in a workshop where they can be repaired, maintained, or updated.
While there’s a lot of work to make sure the rides are safe for amusement park patrons, Vourderis says it’s also the customer’s responsibility to follow the rules and ride the rides as are meant to be ridden.
“Obviously you want to follow the rules and regulations of the ride. If the operator tells you that you are too big to do this ride, too big to do this ride or too small to do this ride, there is a reason for that,” Vourderis said. “We don’t discriminate against people, we just have safety in mind. We want you to have a good time, but it’s imperative that you follow the rules.
Vourderis would particularly like to remind parents of young cyclists that safety height requirements are extremely important to follow, because even if you intend to ride with your child, if they are not tall enough, they will not can’t drive anyway.
“We have to follow the rules, it can’t be every man for himself, the rules that exist are there for a reason. We wouldn’t want a 32 inch kid on a ride that requires a 36 inch kid to ride. A lot of parents will say, it’s okay, I’ll sit with it, but the operator will say it’s not about that, it’s about being at the right height to ride the Tilt-a- Whirl, there’s a reason for that. said Vourderis. “So we find ourselves trying to educate the public on a lot of these things, but most people know that if they’re not in the yellow or green zone, you can’t ride. It is imperative that riders and parents abide by the rules and regulations. We only take care of you.
For more information, pricing and more, visit denoswonderwheel.com.