DOB inspectors prep Coney Island park rides ahead of start of summer season

DOB tested rides at Deno's Wonder Wheel Amusement Park in Coney Island to clear them ahead of the summer season.
DOB tested rides at Deno’s Wonder Wheel Amusement Park to clear them ahead of the summer season.
Photo by Arthur De Gaeta

Department of Building inspectors and Deno’s Wonder Wheel Amusement Park employees have begun the process of prepping the Coney Island park for its 103rd season with month-long ride inspections.

The southern Brooklyn area is typically full with shrills of excitement, fresh summer treats and century old games — but it falls quiet during the colder months. But instead of flying south for the winter, DOB inspectors and park employees take this time to meticulously inspect the rides, guaranteeing they are up to code and safe for visitors ahead of the season that starts next month.

At the start of March, DOB employees filed into the park to give each attraction a run through. The team can spend hours inspecting a single attraction — the Wonder Wheel takes at least 8 hours to evaluate, while other attractions can take nearly three days, like their newest roller coaster, the Phoenix. 

John Mingoia, supervisor with DOB elevator division, spends hours looking over the park rides, and the timeframe can vary due to factors that alter their schedule. He and his team do not call it quits until every ride has been carefully observed, with the entire squad focused on one goal throughout this process — safety.

“It has to do with children. I’ve got children of my own,” Mingoia said. “If I’m not putting my own children on these rides, I’m not putting nobody’s kids on these rides.”

“But, to break up the day, we like to have a little laughter. That’s what makes the workday good and we all work together as a team.”

The process has many built-in redundancies, said Mingoia.  

“If I miss something, that’s what he’s here for. The more eyes the better because a guy can miss something and another guy can pick it up,” he said. “It’s good to have more eyes on the ride, always.”

During their walk through, investigators look at every aspect of  the ride including the gears, cables, seatbelts and anti-roll back features.

One inspection points out the gears on Deno's oldest ride, the Wonder Wheel.
One inspection points out the gears on Deno’s oldest ride, the Wonder Wheel.Photo by Arthur De Gaeta

“There’s threadings and nuts and stuff like that you want to make sure that stuff is tight because it’s very easy with the amount of force these rides are going with for it to get lose and that causes an accident,” Christopher Silva, an inspector with DOB’s Elevator Inspections Unit, told Brooklyn Paper. 

After passing the examination, the ride monitors will give each ride a green card, clearing them for operation.

The department inspects all amusement rides in NYC, large rides in Coney Island and small rides at street fairs which totals to about 280 periodic inspections a year on permanent rides and approximately 700-800 temporary rides a year.

In addition to these periodic observations, the team also conducts between 1,000 – 5,000 spot checks a year for safety and code compliance.

The team of 10 to 12 inspectors can spend up to 3 or 4 days clearing a single ride.
The team of 10 to 12 inspectors can spend up to 3 or 4 days clearing a single ride.Photo by Arthur De Gaeta

During these spot checks, DOB sends inspectors to the park in plain clothes to make sure each ride has their green card and the operators are following the guidelines instructed in the ride’s manufacture manual. 

“Attentive to the ride, they don’t have any cellphones in hand, they’ve got to be able to understand a ‘stop’ because if a child is crying or saying ‘stop’ they need to understand that and shut the ride down,” Mingoia said. “You never put a screaming child on the ride but most importantly they got to make sure that they’re able to fit the measurements required to ride the ride.”

If they notice any discrepancies, the inspectors can give the operators a warning on the spot or pull them off the ride and temporarily shut the attraction down with a violation. 

“The whole point is they don’t recognize us but we’re watching them and the minute we see an issue, we’ll get Dennis involved if need be and he’ll take care of it from there,” the DOB supervisor said.

The park aims to start their season by Palm Sunday every year. Which mean DOB has until April 2 to get as many rides cleared as possible. 

Dennis Vourderis, co-owner of the Deno’s Wonder Wheel Amusement Park and son of former park owner, Denos D. Vourderis, says since the park is not open year round, it is important to have every ride up and running for the full season. 

“We have to maintain the historic value of the rides and some of the flavor of Coney Island and that’s part of the ambiance here at Deno’s,” Vourderis told Brooklyn Paper.“Most people think amusement park is closed [so we] cover everything up and go to Florida for the winter but no we’re here probably 11 months out of the year. It takes us all winter to prepare for the next summer.”

Vourderis says he is looking forward to serving funnel cakes to season regulars and operating rides that have been a part of the Coney Island community for decades.

The park’s annual Blessing of the Rides Ceremony is scheduled for April 2 at 10:30 a.m. 

For more coverage of Coney Island, head to BrooklynPaper.com.