They may look harmless enough, but don't be fooled. Those bouncy inflatable castles and slides can be lethal. At a recent soccer tournament in Oceanside, New York, high winds sent three inflatable "bounce houses" flying, injuring 13. One woman suffered head and spinal injuries when a slide toppled her.
Mike Perniches, a father who ran to the rescue, said, “I never thought there would be any serious issues, any concerns with safety. But now, I’m like, forget it.”
Oceanside was by no means the first in a long line of similar incidents, where inflatable’s have been toppled by winds or have collapsed under too much weight. In the past two months alone, there have been at least ten reported incidents in the USA, with over 40 people injured. The problem is not with the inflatable’s themselves, but the lack of regulations surrounding them. Often they are set up incorrectly or unsupervised.
“I wish this [incident] was a rarity, but it’s not. It happens all the time,” said Jim Barber, a spokesman for the National Association of Amusement Ride Safety Officials, based in Brandon, Florida. “These are probably the most dangerous amusement devices they have.”
A Cincinnati diocese banned inflatable rides at church festivals in 2009 after a gust of wind threw a slide about 65 metres, carrying an 11-year old boy with it. He walked away with just bruises.
A Pennsylvania man wasn't so lucky, after an inflatable slide at a baseball game pinned him down and killed him. A five-year old boy was also killed last year when he fell off an inflatable and landed on a concrete floor at an indoor entertainment centre.
Barber, of the National Association of Amusement Ride Safety Officials, noted that the rides don’t just float away and that they need to be properly installed and securely fixed with stakes in the ground. But many rental companies simply drop off the inflatables at a venue, providing little instruction.
“A lot of times they never get anchored down; they put too many kids in, they put two and three year old kids in with a 16-year old,” said Barber.
This summer, if your children want to jump in an inflatable, by all means let them. But check that the ride is adequately supervised, looks secure, and isn't overcrowded. If you are planning to rent one in Canada, be sure to have it inspected by the T.S.S.A. beforehand. It's not only the law; it could well be a matter of life and death.