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How to have a safe, fun day at the Erie County Fair

This calf is just one of the critters you can find at the fair, this year.
HAMBURG — It’s fair season, as several of the pages of this week’s edition point out. See Pages 1 and 3 to learn more about the arrival of the James E. Strates Shows train on Aug. 1, an occasion heralded by the Pepsi-Cola Erie County Fair Marching Band, three delightful fair clowns and a proclamation by Mayor Tom Moses. It was a true carnival atmosphere, one that could have dropped right out of a classic movie, if it weren’t for the drone taking photos overhead.

Check out B7 for our regular calendar of events, which includes some of the fair’s offerings, and B8 for Staff Reporter Alicia Greco’s nostalgic take on her own fair experience. What’s on the entertainment docket over the next couple of weeks is on B7, as well.

When I was a kid, growing up just a mile or so from the fairgrounds, I could hear the Erie County Fair music, the tractor pull and most of all, the demolition derby, from my bedroom. On a quiet night, if I stood in my driveway, I could hear the tinkling bells, shrill whistles and indiscriminate rumbling sounds of the midway and I swear, in the right wind, fried dough drifts right over the village. I worked the gates at the fair for several summers, usually walking or riding my bike to my shift. Before I was old enough to work, my friends and I practically lived at the fair for those two weeks, eating as much “fair food,” as we could stomach, also known as the fried, sweet, greasy, or otherwise not-good-for-me food my parents wouldn’t allow the rest of the year.

To this day, I still love to visit the cows (my favorite animal) and I’m looking forward to checking out some of the 175th anniversary events and attractions that are special, this year. But as with any large event, it’s vital for workers, residents and visitors to remember that safety is tantamount, at and around the fair. A wise teacher of mine always used to say, “There’s safety in numbers, but danger in crowds.”

First, remember that large crowds of people mean a larger potential for less savory characters. While no such incidents have been reported at the Erie County Fair that I am aware of, festivals and fairs can attract pickpockets and thieves to areas where they are not often found. When walking around the fairgrounds, know where your valuables are. Try to keep wallets, cell phones or other desireables in an inside pocket, if you carry a purse or backpack, and do not ever leave your belongings unattended. When in large crowds, be mindful of people pressing against you, and stay alert for unusual behavior. Always lock your car doors in the parking lot or streets, and take extra care to be sure your homes and businesses are secure, as well. Break-ins are more common in the summer, period, but especially when there is a higher proportion of people in town.

Similarly, be careful when driving in more congested traffic, and take note of temporary signals, particularly in front of the McKinley Avenue fairgrounds entrance. Fair visitors, especially children, may cross the street without looking carefully, so drive more slowly around the fairgrounds and be mindful of pedestrians in areas where they would generally not be.

If you are visiting the fair and your child becomes lost, notify a fair employee or security guard that the child is missing. Fair staff has been instructed to bring lost children or persons with special needs to the security building, which is a good first place to look. When within festival grounds, such as the Erie County Fair, notify security personnel first; the fair will alert the police, should the need arise.

Before taking children to the fair or other crowded place, remind them what to do if they become lost. Teach them to locate a uniformed employee, security guard or police officer, and point them out upon arrival, so they know who to ask for help, should the need arise.

If splitting up as a group, make sure a meeting place and time is clearly established. It is a good idea to make sure children or teens have watches or timepieces other than cell phones, in case cell service is unreliable. Make sure each group has a map; fairgrounds or other festival areas can become disorienting.

Remind children that livestock are still strange animals, and should not be touched or petted without their owners’ permission. Some animals, especially rabbits, are prone to bite fingers that are poked into their enclosures. Never feed an animal anything except approved feed; “people” food can make livestock sick. Avoid loud noises around animals, in general; even though livestock that come to the fair are generally docile, the fair is still a foreign, sometimes stressful environment, and small children in particular should be taught about respecting the animals’ needs.

If a child is bitten by an animal to the extent that it causes an injury, alert fair Emergency Medical Services personnel. They will refer the person to health care professionals, as appropriate, and should have documentation of the incident.

In case of severe weather, be aware of nearby buildings. The Erie County Fair grounds are organized in such a way that a building is usually not far away, but make sure children, in particular, know where there is shelter, in case of thunder and lightning or dangerously high winds. Do not take shelter under awnings, tents or trees, and follow the directions of fair staff, should evacuation or other emergency action be deemed necessary.

In the unlikely case of an active shooter, call 911 first and alert the police, then call nearby fair security and report the incident. Take note of nearby landmarks and be able to describe the person to the authorities. Stay on the line until instructed otherwise. If you find yourself involved in such a situation, find a hiding place that offers secure protection, such as behind a locked door, or one that does not hinder your ability to escape, as necessary. Have an evacuation plan in mind, leave your belongings and stick to your plan, whether or not others follow. Help others escape as well, if possible.

Finally, be aware of food and beverage safety, especially in hot weather. While food vendors are required to comply with health inspections and the chances of contracting a food-borne illness from purchased food is unlikely, be aware of the effect of temperature on food, in general. Many fair visitors choose to bring in beverages, sandwiches or other snacks, and may not consider the effects of the heat on food, particularly cold cuts, mayonnaise or other condiments. Be aware of the effect of the weather on food, and always remember to wash your hands before touching food, especially after contact with livestock.

The Erie County Fair and other festivals and events like it offer residents and visitors alike the chance to experience parts of America they may not otherwise have access to, such as livestock, handicrafts, Native American culture showcases, taxidermy and much more, in a festive, celebratory atmosphere. Most of these events are safe and fun for all ages, but a few extra precautions can ensure they stay that way.

Finally, remember that festival and carnival workers are people, too. I could have written a book full of the nasty, uncharitable things visitors have said to me while (I assume) on the way into the grounds to have fun. Long lines, weather or ticket issues are often part of the experience, but try to have patience with the staff, other visitors and official procedures, whether or not the results work out in your favor.

On the whole, everyone is working to make the experience a pleasant one for all involved.


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