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There's No Business Like No Business


VENTURA — Their patron saint: the lonely-on-his-job Maytag repairman. Their slogan: We're bored and proud of it.

Ventura County Fair patrons may thrive on the thrill of the midway, but for the fair's behind-the-scenes men and women who provide first aid and security, excitement is overrated.

A slow day is a good day, they say, and the ultimate prize is 12 incident-free days at the fair.

So far--except for a counterfeit carnival ticket scam discovered on Saturday--so good. The 160 security personnel, nine emergency medical technicians plus a team of law enforcement officers are meeting their goal: boredom.

On Monday the first aid office had doled out only two aspirin--to a security worker. At the security office, the day's big news was a poodle sighting--no pets allowed at the fair--and a rogue pizza delivery to the small-livestock area.

Both were resolved quietly.

But it's not easy being dull, said Richard Tucker, event services manager for Seaside Park. What most fairgoers don't realize is the carefully choreographed work that goes into making the fair safe.

The crew has to be ready for any contingency, Tucker said. To do that, the park's security staff coordinates with local law enforcement officers who also are on duty at the fair.

Alongside them, the first aid booth's emergency medical technicians, run by Rick Graves, 52, owner of Newport Beach-based Medical & Safety Management, must be able to handle most situations and call an ambulance on scene within minutes.

For Tucker, preparations start about two months before the first ticket holder enters the turnstile. That's when he begins recruiting youths from sports teams at Ventura College and local high schools to work the fair part-time, standing sentry at turnstiles, doors and other points throughout the grounds.

The youngsters fill out his year-round staff of 20 part-timers who help with other events at the fair, he said.

Ventura police officers also watch each entrance to make sure no known local gang members enter the grounds. In 1997 there were three gang-related stabbings at a fair concert.

The following year, the city of Ventura obtained a temporary injunction prohibiting hard-core members of a west Ventura gang from entering the fairgrounds. Police officers spent three years documenting repeated acts of violence committed by those gang members at past county fairs, officials said.

Last year the city obtained a permanent injunction against the gang, and this year only a handful of its members have tried to enter the park, said Police Lt. Quinn Fenwick. All were removed from the fairgrounds, and some were arrested for violating an agreement not to enter Seaside Park, he said.

"The injunction's been effective," Fenwick said.

The careful preparation means the hottest action security personnel see is "move-in day," when judging for one type of animal is over and replaced by another group.

Many of the animals' owners sleep over at a campground just north of the fairgrounds, so with RVs, cattle trailers, pickup trucks and pedestrians, move-in days can spell chaos without careful preparation, Tucker said.

"You can really foul it up if you don't do it carefully," said security worker Jacob De La O, 18, as he directed a cattle trailer into the livestock area. "It gets complicated."

Across the fairgrounds, members of Tucker's crew roam the midway, on the lookout for scam artists and game operators who may not be giving participants a fair chance of winning.

Ventura County's fair is one of the best run he's seen, he said.

All told, the fair spends about $70,000 for inside-the-park security plus $140,000 for law enforcement, Tucker said. Money well spent, he said, especially when nothing happens.

At the first aid station, Graves said the most excitement his employees have seen was a man who stopped by the other day and said his right arm had gone numb as he reached for his credit card.

"He wasn't kidding," Graves said.

Other than that his staff has mostly passed out Band-Aids and aspirin and tended to an occasional bee sting.

Pam and Tom Carnesi said they go to fairs all over the state and Ventura is one of their favorites because they feel safe and enjoy the nearby ocean breezes. Orange County's fair is too commercial, the Torrance couple said, but Ventura's is just right.

"I teach in an area that is getting quite aggressive, and I carry pepper spray," said Carnesi, who instructs troubled youths. "I feel comfortable here."

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