ESCANABA - Lost children. Parking problems. And lots and lots of questions.
These are just three types of routine problems dealt with by the men who work for M & R Security during the week when the U.P. State Fair is underway.
"We generally patrol the fair looking for any problem areas," said Darryl McKnight, owner of M & R Security. "We also provide money escorts for the fair itself."
McKnight, who has owned M & R Security for 28 years, has been providing security for the U.P. State Fair ever since he was an officer with the Escanaba Public Safety Department.
"When I worked at Public Safety, I realized there was a need (for a security firm)," said McKnight. "There was no security in the area at the time." He explained that Escanaba Public Safety provided fair security at one time, but when that ceased, his company took it over.
"The State Police assists with security but they are not paid by the fair. They usually come in and help, particularly during concerts," McKnight said.
M & R Security, which employs as many as 11 guards during a concert night, has a few individuals with police backgrounds on the payroll. Many of the guards return year after year.
"I have a few who even take vacation from their regular jobs to work the fair every year," McKnight said. He added the state mandates the criteria to operate a security firm and all those who meet state requirements generally receive on-the-job training. All are required by law to wear red badges with white lettering.
McKnight said problems were usually at a minimum from year to year, however, he became a little more concerned when the Fair Board lifted its ban on alcohol sold under the grandstand during concert performances.
"Two years ago they began to allow alcohol at the concerts but even that hasn't given us too much of a problem," he said. "We have increased security under the grandstand to make sure no one brings alcohol in with them. So far - knock on wood - there have been no major problems."
McKnight's workers are also charged with controlling the crowds as they watch the concert.
"We used to have mosh pits, when people run the stage, but not so much any more," he said. "There are some group managers that allow people to crowd the stage, so unless someone gets hurt, we just let them go."
On occasions, officers may have to break up fights at the concerts.
"It's usually a kid who gets belligerent," McKnight explained.
Even though a number of officers maintain each of the entry gates and are not out patrolling the fair, they occasionally have to step up and cope with someone who's breaking the rules.
"In past years, we had a run at the gates when people drive through really fast," McKnight said. "They didn't have a car pass and figured if they went speeding through, they wouldn't be caught. Now they have to have a car pass to drive inside."
Security doesn't end when the fair closes down at 11 each night.
Security workers patrol the fairgrounds throughout the night making sure the area is safe and trouble-free.
Despite the casualness of the fair and the fact there is a lot of money changing hands quickly, McKnight said he is surprised there isn't as much problem with lost money as one would expect and the security guards have few complaints from vendors of stolen merchandise during the days when the stae fair is underway.
"It always amazes me how honest people are," he said. "I had one person find a fairly large amount of money at the Pocket Park and came and turned it in. About the only problem we have - if you want to call it a problem - is that there are a few people who come in and look for cans to turn in for refunds."
But despite the rather routine atmosphere at the fair, security steps up considerable when the fair is torn down late Sunday afternoon.
McKnight said vendors and games and ride providers are required to remain until 5 p.m.
"That's when we really have to be on our toes," he said. "That's usually when things come up missing because everyone is rushing around and the people are busy and preoccupied because they're in a hurry and many of them have to move onto the next spot."
In addition, at the close of the fair, area police agencies report at least one teenager who has left the area with the fair workers.
"We usually lose about one kid a year," McKnight. "Usually it's girls."
McKnight said he appreciates the fact that his company has a very close working relationship with the Fair Board.
"We work together to maintain a safe environment for the people attending the fair and the concerts," he said. "And I really appreciate that whenever issues come up that we've had to take care of, they back me up. I've never had any problems."