There is nothing much more fun to a kid than running, climbing, jumping or playing sports, except perhaps doing all of those things in one place. That is why family entertainment centers (FECs) have been so successful through the years. Parents seek out places where their children can run wild and let loose, while being safe at the same time.
Safety is a huge concern for the owners of FECs. It is their job to create an exciting and fun atmosphere where it is entirely safe for children to run and play. “All of our rides are inspected by the State Department of Labor and undergo daily inspections by management. We also follow the Code Adam safety program, if a child should ever go missing,” said Kyle Allison, general manager of Andy Alligator’s Fun Park in Norman, Okla. Aside from a few false alarms, Allison has never had a child truly go missing at the facility, fortunately.
To ensure a safe and responsible team of employees, Allison remarked that all employees over 18 undergo a background check. Management receives both a background and a credit check. “We also train all of the employees on the Code Adam program so everyone is prepared to know what to do in this type of emergency,” Allison said.
With its giant maze, playhouse and large bounce houses, Amy’s Indoor Playground in Pasadena, Calif., attracts a large crowd of pint-sized patrons. Owner Amy Shachory takes great measures to provide a safe environment for these children. “We have a safety gate at the entrance to the play area, so children cannot run in and out without an adult. We also have soft padding on the ground near places where children may potentially fall, such as the entrance to the bouncer or by low stairs. All our toys are soft, so that if anyone should throw a toy, it would not hurt. However, we do have rules posted stating that toys should not be thrown and we do not allow toys or balls into the bouncers and maze,” Shachory said.
By constantly reinforcing the rules to the clients, Shachory and staff make sure that everyone is aware. Signs are also posted warning children not to jump too high in certain areas, so that they will not bump their heads. “We have never had a serious injury, luckily,” said Shachory. “Minor accidents will happen – kids will fall while running and get a bump or a cut. One time a child lost a tooth in the bouncer when his mouth hit another child on the head. We have ice packs, first aid kits and Neosporin, for any of those injuries. For the most part, we don’t see much of this. We keep areas padded and have staff watching.” The staff members do not undergo any formal background checks, but more than one reference is called during the hiring process.
Having the staff watching and paying attention at all times makes a big difference in safety at FECs. “Not only do I make sure my staff is always watching the kids, but I am personally involved in devoting attention to what is going on at my facility,” said Andy Oelbaum, owner of Active Kidz, Long Island, Inc. in Port Washington, N.Y. “I am always walking through all of our play areas to make sure the staff is present and aware. The person who cares the most has to be there and that is me. If the owner does not care, then nobody else will. I have to set the example,” Oelbaum said, “It is intolerable to me that anyone should ever get hurt here.”
Oelbaum makes sure all areas are properly staffed, with three to four employees watching over the bounce houses and laser tag areas at all times. Employees are given a background check, but Oelbaum also relies on a “gut-feeling” when hiring staff. “I can tell who truly cares, versus someone who would just be going through the motions.”
John Pergosky, owner of Bear Rock Junction, in New Tripoli, Pa., also falls back on that “gut-feeling” when it comes to hiring staff. “We have potential employees fill out an application and undergo an interview process. We also do a background check and check references. But you can tell a lot about a person by how they present themselves. They can look good on paper, but if they come in with jeans that have holes and are hanging down off their body, then it probably will not be a good fit,” Pergosky said.
To keep Bear Rock Junction safe, Pergosky and staff do a walk-through every morning to look for anything that might be out of order, be it a rope out of place that could cause someone to trip, or anything else. All rides receive an inspection required by the state to ensure their safety and the staff also inspects the rides daily to make sure everything is working properly.
Primarily a batting cage, Bergen Batting Center in River Edge, N.J., draws in a crowd of baseball enthusiasts. Owner Dave Schwartz knows that safety rules are a must for kids who are swinging around a baseball bat. “It is so important for those kids to know not to swing their bats around in the air. We can’t let them do it ever, even if nobody is around, because then they get in the habit of thinking it is OK to do,” Schwartz said. Signs are posted warning patrons not to swing their bats around and Schwartz’s staff is well versed in knowing what to tell customers about the safety rules. “We are very careful with the staff we hire,” Schwartz said. “We check all references and full-time staff are subject to background and criminal checks and we reserve the right to run drug tests, should we choose to do so.” Schwartz has never had any safety or security issues in the nine years that they have been open.
“We are sticklers for safety rules,” said Stefanie Arciniaga, general manager of Bob-O’s Family Fun Center in El Paso, Texas. “We have safety rules and procedures posted all throughout the facility, including height and age requirements for all rides. We also make sure to constantly communicate our safety rules to our customers so there is no doubt that they understand,” Arciniaga said.
Potential employees must fill out an application and go through an interview process. References are always checked, as well. Once hired, employees undergo CPR training and the fire department has also come in to talk to employees to make sure that they understand all safety rules and procedures. Arciniaga said that there have been no safety scares in the five years that she has worked at the center. –