Not long ago, a New Jersey couple rented an inflatable from Edison, N.J-based Air Castles and Slides for a backyard party. On the day of the event, guests good-naturedly teased the wife about the document she had placed on one of the tables, a certificate attesting to her having completed an inflatables operating safety course developed and offered by the company. But they stopped laughing, and in fact, applauded their host, when the unit’s motor suddenly shut down. Rather than panicking, the woman followed the proper procedure for evacuating the ride’s occupants without injury while her husband went to determine the cause of the problem. There was no alternative: Had the consumer not earned the certificate, Air Castles and Slides Owner Debbie Henderson would not have accepted her order for the inflatable.
Requiring customers to undergo training prior to rental is just one example of how the industry is striving harder to minimize or prevent accidents involving inflatables. Here is a look at what some operators in New Jersey, which sets some of the most stringent rules pertaining to the operation of such attractions, are doing on this front.
“The latest thinking is that when it comes to inflatables, there really is no such thing as being too cautious,” Henderson said, adding that diligence has served her operation, which delivers a wide range of inflatable units to customers throughout the state, extremely well since it was founded 10 years ago.
“I am the insurance representative on the New Jersey State Carnival Amusement Ride Safety Advisory Board (CARSAB),” she noted. “Every year you have to have a safety permit from the state of New Jersey, and you have to have an inspection for every inflatable. When you go out to an event, you have to provide them with an itinerary so they can come out and spot-check to make sure the ride is being operated safely and legally. In the event of an accident, there is a shut-down stop order, you have to shut the ride down until they can come and inspect it. We’ve never had an incident.”
Henderson, who with her husband started the company to demonstrate good business ethics to her children, attributed this stellar track record to many factors, among them the inflatables operation safety course. Administered online over a 30-minute interval, the program covers a wide range of topics, including grouping guests by height and weight to minimize problems, site preparation, anchoring, blower usage, inflation procedures and how to handle problems. A quiz on individual components of the course is given immediately after that portion of the curriculum has been delivered; “students” must earn a score of 100 percent on each part before proceeding to the next, as well as pass a final assessment test at the end. Individuals who eschew or fail to successfully complete the 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.
Inflatable Adventures in Toms River, N.J., also enforces safety-related prerequisites to be met by customers ahead of the game. This includes indicating, on an online order form or when contacting the company by telephone, whether there are any site conditions, for instance, uneven ground and overhead wires or branches, that may impede safe operation unless properly addressed. Additionally, customers are given a “safety briefing” upon delivery of their orders. During the briefing, staff members share directives regarding height restrictions and the number of individuals who can use a given unit at any one juncture, as well as tell party hosts that direct adult supervision is mandatory for all units whenever they are in use to prevent children from acting in an irresponsible manner. Reminders to check and re-check the anchoring of inflatables are issued, as are instructions for what to do in case of a passing shower that starts while a unit is in operation (shut it off immediately and, once conditions clear up, dry it thoroughly before resuming use to guard against slips and falls).
Moreover, “We tell customers to make certain there’s nothing in (guests’) mouths, nothing around their necks and nothing in their pockets,” stated Cheryll Shailey, owner. “We emphasize that each inflatable is different and has different height requirements. A lot of people think it’s just a big toy, and they don’t know there are restrictions.”
Like Air Castles and Slides, Inflatable Adventures will provide a monitor if customers so desire, but this does not exempt them from the safety briefing. The 10-year-old, family owned operation serves Ocean and Monmouth counties and has 15 employees.
Mike D’Elia, owner of Bounce Around in Chester, also insists on safety lessons for renters, and all attendants receive thorough training before they are permitted to work parties. “We’ve never had an accident, and we are 9 years old,” D’Elia said. “When you educate your employees, educate your customers for events such as backyard parties, and make sure everybody signs off on the safety rules they’re supposed to know, it helps a lot. But sometimes parents are too busy with their other guests to monitor the ride, and that can lead to a bad situation. We always recommend having our attendant so they don’t have to monitor the ride themselves.”
Precautions that center on educating customers are equally important at AeroChampion, whose service area extends to all towns within a 30-mile radius of its Flemington home base, and at EZ Fun Bouncers, which opened in South Amboy last year and primarily serves customers in Middlesex County. Darren Pieper, AeroChampion’s manager, claimed the company’s 12 years of operation have never been marred by an accident involving inflatables, in large part because “everything is spelled out” for customers, down to the last detail. For instance, height requirements and occupancy limits are posted on individual inflatables, where no one can contest them. Customers are advised in writing about the specific actions that may cause accidents and merit ferreting out by supervising adults to minimize the danger; examples of the latter include flipping (strictly prohibited) along with damage, and accident-inducing leaning, jumping and hanging onto the side of any inflatable.
In a somewhat different vein, AeroChampion supplies Ground Fault Circuit Interrupters (GFCIs) to its customers where necessary, at no extra cost. “Code requires that all inflatables have a GFCI and 15A or 20A outlet to power the blower, but other items on the same circuit may cause the breaker to trip off,” resulting in potentially dangerous sudden deflation,” Pieper said. “If a GFCI is not available or if it is not strong enough to power the blower, we would rather loan customers one than see bad consequences later.”
Leticia Chavez, owner of EZ Fun Bouncers, said she not only provides written instructions like those offered by AeroChampion; she also includes a Spanish version to accommodate her company’s large volume of Hispanic customers. Special precautions are taken when units are rented for use indoors in gymnasiums and the like; for example, guide wires are tied and concrete buckets are employed to guard against shimmying around the floor and tipping over as children jump inside. And although New Jersey law stipulates that inflatables cannot be operated when wind speed exceeds 25 miles per hour, the cutoff for EZ Fun Bouncers is 15 miles per hour. –
Extra Precautions for Keeping the Youngest Guests Safe on Inflatables
- Be Nosey. Ask prospective renters very specific questions about guests’ ages, and agree to supply only the appropriate options. “Get an inflatable that fits their size and age. For example, we have a toddler playground that’s designed for the little ones.” – Cheryll Shailey, owner, Inflatable Adventures
- Call for Mom and Dad. “Require that very little children, say, 1 and 2 year olds, go inside a bounce house or castle only if there is a parent to be sure nobody steps on or bumps into them. In these cases, allow fewer people in total inside at any one time.” – Leticia Chavez, owner, EZ Fun Bouncers
- Just Say “No.” Stand up to parents who insist that it is fine for their child to ride an inflatable, even though he or she does not meet height requirements, and train attendants to do the same. “What a lot of parents don’t understand is that just because they think their child is pretty tough and would enjoy the thrill of the ride, doesn’t mean the ride is suitable for the child. If a child is too small, the safety features that are engineered into the ride might not work.” – Debbie Henderson, Air Castles and Slides