Safe and Sound: Keeping Inflatables Securely in Place

In June of 2009, an Ohio boy made news when a gust of wind caught the poorly anchored inflatable slide in which he had been playing, sending the unit 40 feet into the air with the child clinging to it. While the incident ended on a happy note—quick-thinking adults stabbed and deflated the slide, and the child escaped with only minor injuries—it underscores a need for companies that rent bounce houses, moon walks, slides, and other inflatable attractions to take steps aimed at preventing the items from tipping or blowing away.
“Just because inflatables are big and soft, doesn’t mean they should be treated any differently than ‘hard’ rides like Ferris wheels in terms of what is done to keep people safe,” said Mark Zientek, president of New Jersey Partyworks in South Amboy, N.J. and chairman of Responsible Operators of Amusement Rentals (ROAR).
New Jersey has the most stringent laws covering inflatables safety, but rental entities in other states are also very diligent when it comes to accident prevention and safety procedures. Proper anchoring of units so that they do not blow away or tip over tops their list of practices.
On grassy surfaces, operators achieve this by running stakes through the loops on their inflatables.  Operators peg the proper stake size at 24 inches to 40 inches in length, depending on the size of the unit, adding they generally drive stakes three-fourths of the way into the ground.
“Stakes at all four corners of an inflatable are essential, but if the design of a particular unit includes additional anchor points and its recommendations specify, we will add extra to meet the specifications,” noted John Lane, owner, Ribit Party Rentals, Kansas City, Mo. Like other operators contacted by Tourist Attractions & Parks, Lane always follows manufacturers’ guidelines for stake type, length and angle; as well as for the degree to which stakes may protrude from the ground and the number and angle of tethers that are to be connected at each point.
Meanwhile, sources utilize sandbags to secure inflatables slated for installation on asphalt or other exterior non-grassy surface. As is the case with stakes, the minimum number of sandbags is four—one per corner. Recommended sandbag weights vary by manufacturer and unit size, starting at about 75 pounds and extending to 200 pounds apiece.
John Ficcadenti, owner of Hugo, Minn.-based All Around Fun, recommended that operators exercise equal caution when it comes to keeping inflatables in place
indoors. “True, you don’t have to worry about wind, but an improperly secured unit can shimmy around as kids jump inside or start to tip over,” Ficcadenti said. For this reason, he insists on tying guide wires and weighting down all units set up in school gymnasiums and the like with concrete buckets.
Developing and enforcing regulations that dictate the number and mix of individuals who may play in or on an inflatable unit at any one time, as well as guidelines for safe use (for example, no horseplay), is also a good idea, sources observed. The primary purpose of these regulations and guidelines is to safeguard guests against injury by prohibiting them from taking undue risks (e.g., doing back flips) or from bumping into or landing atop others. However, “if too many people are inside and on one side” of the unit or the like, tip-over might occur.
Accordingly, staff of Hop-on-Pop’s MoonBounce, in Woodridge, Va., advises renters that a maximum of 10 children under 8 years old, eight children ages 8 to 12, five teenagers or three adults should simultaneously utilize its 15-foot-by-15-foot moonwalks. Attendants, who may be hired at a rate of $35 per hour, are instructed to ensure that these limits are not exceeded, according to Amy Carasquill, manager.
A similar policy is in force at Air Castles and Slides, LLC, Edison, N.J. To ensure that the company’s offerings are used in the safest possible way, Owner Debbie Henderson created, and requires renters to take, a comprehensive, 30-minute “Online Safety Certification Program” course and to pass a test on the material upon completion of the program. The course covers a wide range of topics, including grouping guests by height and weight to minimize problems, site preparation, anchoring, blower usage, inflation procedures, safety and how to handle problems. Individuals who prefer not to undergo online training are not permitted to rent inflatables from Air Castles and Slides unless they engage the services of one of the company’s own trained, certified staff, at their own expense.
“It’s really important to tell people to watch kids carefully for rambunctiousness, and not to overload, but instead to take turns with no more than four to five children of the same size,” advised Ficcadenti of All Around Fun.
Companies that rent inflatables also avoid trouble by opting against setting up the units under certain weather conditions. For many, this entails exercising even more caution than is warranted by manufacturers’ instructions and, in certain cases, state law. “In New Jersey, we are not permitted to go ahead with a job if the wind speed is 25 miles or more, but we are very strict and adhere to a limit of 15 miles per hour,” Henderson stated. “We don’t take chances.”
Similarly, Zientek insists on canceling jobs or ending the fun early when wind speed reaches three or four miles below the manufacturer’s specifications. And at All Around Fun, Ficcadenti refuses to install or deflates if ominous-looking dark clouds loom, even if the wind has not yet begun to blow and/or rain has started to fall. “Better safe than sorry,” the operator asserted.
Moreover, while proper anchoring of inflatables goes far towards warding off trouble with the units, some units are more prone to tipping over than others. “We avoid them, to the point of being extremely conservative,” Zientek said. New Jersey Partyworks’ selection of inflatables excludes units with Velcro walls, which Zientek believes restrict users’ movement and may cause “pileups” with subsequent tip-over.
Bounce House Frisco, in Frisco, Texas, does not rent bounce castles with netted walls; the force of children bouncing into them starts a momentum of tipover, employees stated. By contrast, they observed, inflatable walls have a “bounce back” effect.
Savvy rental organizations also recognize the importance of having in place procedures for evacuation should an emergency occur. Sources review such procedures with renters when the inflatables are delivered; those that offer the services of paid attendants train staff to follow these procedures as well.
For instance, customers of and attendants from Air Castles and Slides are provided with a whistle they must blow if a power outage or other problem causes an inflatable to deflate. Children are told to come to attention, sit down, exit in orderly fashion through the door or emergency roof/ceiling release/exit and stand in orderly fashion away from the unit. Only when all guests are no longer in or on the inflatable can the individual in charge re-inflate the unit. An identical procedure is followed in case of rain and/or high winds, with the one difference being that the blower is turned off once children have safely exited and are away from the area.
“If precautions are taken, the chances that there will be an emergency other than a sudden wind and/or rain storm are very, very low,” notes Lane of Ribit Party Rentals. “However, it’s really critical that renters know to get the children calmly out and to be certain they aren’t standing near the inflatable after they get out, and that attendees, if any, are aware of the same. All in all, inflatables are safe—just treat them with a little common sense and attention to detail.” –

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