Homecomers' fire safety is important issue

Tuesday, September 30, 2003

Turns out that whether Jackson Homecomers moves to City Park or stays put in uptown isn't the biggest issue about the annual event.

That point was driven home when Jackson fire chief Brad Golden showed a series of unsettling slides.

One photo showed exposed wires used for slides laying in the middle of the street. One slip during a rain shower could have meant an electrocuted youngster.

Another slide showed a security fence located too close to a ride. Golden undoubtedly made a few parents shudder when he said that a child could have an arm cut off if he or she reached over the fence.

Golden also pointed out that emergency vehicles would have a hard time getting into the area as the streets are blocked with rides and concession stands. Food stands and carnival rides block the streets from fire truck access, violating a city ordinance that requires an 18-foot fire lane.

In an area of town primarily composed of older buildings with no sprinkler systems, even a spark could send an entire block up in flames.

Golden said it wasn't the American Legion, which organizes the event, that made Homecomers unsafe, it's the carnival operators who set up the rides.

Whoever is at fault, obviously Homecomers, which is host to thousands of children every year, has to make changes to improve safety. Several members of the American Legion and other event organizers agreed to work with the fire chief to comply with safety requirements.

A new city board is getting into the act, too. Desma Reno, president of the community outreach board -- a committee of Jackson residents appointed in July -- has agreed for the outreach board to study the issue and get back with the city council. The community board will meet on Nov. 3.

Mayor Paul Sander said those issues must be addressed before the city would give permission to have Homecomers uptown again next year.

Those who have said they wanted the event moved to City Park could get their wish, because Homecomers organizers have said they want the event to be safe, first and foremost. However, the American Legion and other event organizers agreed that they would work with Golden to comply with safety requirements. If they do so, there's no reason why tradition wouldn't win out and Homecomers would be left near the Cape Girardeau County Courthouse.

However, safety is the most important thing. It must be made clear to the carnival ride providers that an unsafe atmosphere will not be tolerated, and it sounds as though all involved are ready to do so.

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