MOUNT VERNON — The thousands of visitors to the Knox County Fair this year may not have given any thought to the behind the scenes work which has kept them out of harm’s way each day. However, keeping the fairgrounds safe requires work throughout the year, to make sure the facilities are safe, and to keep the plans to deal with an emergency constantly updated.
Local officials say the fairgrounds today are a much safer place to be than the fairgrounds of several years ago. Updates in all of the buildings, including the barns and the grandstand which were mandated by the Mount Vernon Fire Department, replaced outdated wiring, overloaded circuits, and insufficient lighting and exits.
Today bright, clutter-free aisle ways without jumbles of extension cords, are just one of the ways the animal barns have been made safer.
New electrical conduit has been run in many of the buildings including the large merchant’s building and the horse barns, which now means the vendors and exhibitors can plug in their electrical equipment without overloading circuits creating a fire hazard.
Exits which are not blocked, and are now well-lit by emergency and exit lighting are marked throughout all the buildings to make sure people would be able to evacuate quickly in an emergency.
Fire extinguishers are easy to find, and well maintained.
“We have focused a tremendous amount of time on prevention,” said Knox County Safety and Loss Director Emily Marth. “We have focused a lot of hours on making the fairgrounds safer. That place is really a lot safer that it was years ago.”
Knox County Emergency Management Agency Director Brian Hess said the county safety plan for the fair is currently being rewritten, to provide a basic plan for agencies to follow regarding emergency protocols at the fairgrounds.
The plan does not go into specific details about evacuation procedures, or other emergency protocols which for security reasons, cannot be made public according to Hess and Marth.
Mount Vernon Fire Chief Shawn Christy explained the purpose of the safety plan is not to specifically plan for each emergency, but to create a guide for the working relationships between agencies during an emergency.
“Spelling out how all the different groups are going to work together; that’s what this document does,” Christy said.
The plan also provides information about where utility shut offs are located so fair board members and emergency personnel can take action quickly during an emergency.
MVFD Assistant Chief Chris Menapace said his department begins intense, careful inspections of every building on the fairgrounds three to four weeks before the late July start of the fair each year.
Each building is looked over in detail, with any safety violations carefully noted by inspectors. The Knox County Fair Board then works to make the required corrections before the fair opens.
Menapace said this year’s inspection went well, with only minor, easily corrected violations found. Once the fair opens, firefighters walk through the grounds again throughout the week, to make sure no new problems develop.
Bruce Gregg, president of the Knox County Fair board of directors said the higher level of safety at the fair is a benefit to the county, and to fair visitors.
“We worked with the fire department and Emily Marth to make things better for everybody,” Gregg said.
Gregg pointed out new wiring in the barns, increased lighting throughout the buildings and parking areas, and gates to keep spectators safe from large animals as improvements which have been added over the past few years.
County fire departments as well as the MVFD provide fire and EMS coverage during all hours the fair is open. Hess said this takes a lot of cooperation between fire departments to make sure all hours are covered, many by volunteers.
“That’s a good show to the citizens of Knox County that even during these tough economic times their first responders are willing do donate their time in an effort to ensure their protection,” Hess said at the fair Tuesday.