Fatal fun: Inflatable bounce houses

February 27, 2008 7:29:33 PM PST
They're fun and they're popular. Inflatable jumpers are the rage with kids and families, but parents may not know they can also be deadly.

On weekends, you can't drive through most neighborhoods without seeing one in someone's front yard or driveway. But as with any recreation, proper precautions need to be taken. That includes resisting the temptation to get into the jumper with your kids.

One incident of fun turned fatal at Hoppin Houses Indoor Playground in Washington state. In December, two adults playing on an inflatable jumper fell on a three-year old boy and Jacob Pierce died when his skull was crushed.

Dr. Bernard Dannenberg is the director of pediatric emergency at Lucille Packard Children's Hospital at Stanford.

"An adult person that is running around in one of these houses will bounce all the lighter children around, and this is a component I would not add," says Dr. Dannenberg.

Between 1997 and 2004, the Consumer Product Safety Commission estimates the number of accidents on bounce houses, inflatable slides, and climbing walls increased nearly four fold to 4,900. Between 2002 and 2005, 4 people died on bounce houses and inflatable slides. The victim's ages were 15 to 24 years old.

"It is real important to have adult supervision, limited number of children, and I think most importantly, you need to match children with similar weight and athletic abilities," says Dannenberg.

Even kids play can turn rough. Dr. Dannenberg says mixing kids revved up on birthday cake and sugar in a small space means collisions and possibly injuries.

"According to the insurance industry, we have the lowest insurance rates that you can have because our safety record is impeccable," Gordon Keil, President & CEO, Pump It Up.

"Pump It Up" is a national indoor private party facility, headquartered in Pleasanton. The company requires children to watch a safety video provided by Pump It Up. Strict rules are enforced and the number of children allowed in each bounce house is limited and two staff members supervise at all times.

"Every one of our inflatables is anchored to the concrete floor. The tall ones are tethered to the ceiling, to the wall, just to be sure that they're safe," says Keil

If you decide to rent your bounce house, keep these tips in mind:

-Make sure your bounce house is fastened securely or weighted down.
-Watch for any rips or holes and that the unit is not sagging anywhere.
-Stop the ride in high winds.
-Have adult supervision at all times--preferably someone who knows how to operate the unit.

The bottom line is to keep the fun safe. Dr. Dannenberg himself rented a bounce house for his daughter 4th birthday.

"I believe, for the most part, they are safe if you follow the basic rules and advisement of the companies that rent them," says Dannenberg.

More safety tips

One parent's perspective