What was intended to be a fun celebration of the end of school for children at Frederick Elementary School in southern Oklahoma turned into a frightening ordeal that sent seven kids to the hospital with broken bones and concussions. The children were playing on one of three inflatable obstacle courses, similar to a bounce house, when a strong wind lifted the inflatable into the air and overturned it on top of one of the other rides. Of the seven fifth-grade children injured, four were treated and released, and three were hospitalized overnight for observation of head injuries.
Frederick Fire Chief James Heap told reporters he was on the scene of the accident because his daughter is a student at the school. He called the incident a “freak accident,” saying the inflatable obstacle course was properly secured. He said the inflatables were placed and secured at the north end of the football stadium, and that a strong wind from the south blasted through the stadium “like a big whirlwind.” Heap said that the strength of the wind ripped the mounting spikes securing the inflatable out of the ground and tossed the ride.
Although bounce houses seem relatively safe–after all, kids are jumping and landing on a soft surface–they can be dangerous, even deadly. A 3-year-old was killed in one bounce house accident when the child was accidentally crushed by two adults, another girl broke her neck and died doing somersaults down an inflatable slide, and a teen boy is partially paralyzed after attempting to do a back flip in a bounce house and breaking his neck.
In fact, a study in the scientific journal Pediatrics reveals that in the two decades from 1990 to 2010, nearly 65,000 children were injured in inflatable accidents–the equivalent of 31 per day, or one child hurt every 46 minutes. The study’s co-author, Dr. Gary A. Smith, director of the Center for Injury Research and Policy at Nationwide Children’s Hospital, says of the inflatable injuries, “If this was an infectious disease, we’d call it an epidemic, and it would be on the front pages all over the country.”
Still think the news about inflatable accident injuries is overblown? Watch this video to see what happens when strong winds confront inflatable amusements:
Bounce houses and similar “inflatable rides” have quickly become a party staple over the last several years. In the Oklahoma City metro-area, there are several indoor bounce house facilities: Jump!Zone in Oklahoma City, Bouncin’ Craze in Edmond, and Bounce Town in Yukon. These inflatable play places eliminate possibility of an inflatable ride becoming airborne in the perpetual Oklahoma winds, but even here, certain safety precautions must be observed to limit liability and prevent accidents.
Consumer Reports proposes the following safety tips for anyone considering allowing children to use an inflatable play device or bounce house:
- Make sure the inflatable ride is attended by a trained operator
- Check with the operator to ensure that the inflatable is properly anchored; if renting, secure the inflatable to the ground with pegs
- Limit the number of children and/or adults who can be on the device at one time
- Make sure the inflatable is neither overloaded nor unstable
- Position the blower so that it cannot become accidentally unplugged, causing the device to lose air and collapse
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