Ensure bounce house safety for kids

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – They may be big hits at your child's birthday party, but bounce houses can be dangerous.

That danger became all too real over the weekend on New York's Long Island, where three bounce houses flew into the air after a strong wind gust and injured several children.

So just how safe are the inflatable bounce houses, and what can parents learn from the New York incident?

Lynn Grove, the owner of Parties N Motion in Orange Park, said bounce houses are safe, but that safety depends on set up and supervision.

He said it's important to tether the bounce house to the ground with metal stakes at least 18 inches long, and drive them in at an angle. They work best in soft soil.

"I've been in the rental business for probably 16 years now. I've never had a person hurt," Grove said.

Grove believes the incident in New York is giving all bounce houses a bad wrap.

"If you instruct them correctly and they follow the instructions, they're perfectly safe," he said.

In 2009 it happened at Rashetta Law's Jacksonville home during a windy birthday party for her 5-year-old daughter.

"It just picked up the whole thing and it went in the air and into the water," Law said.

Since there are no national regulations, safety standards for bounce houses differ from state to state. National Association of Amusement Ride Safety officials say it's not the toys themselves that are the problem, it's the way they're set up and supervised.

"Always follow what's in the manual, follow whatever the instructions are from the manufacturer, from the builder of the equipment in every way possible," association spokeswoman Laura Woodburn said.

Between 2007 and 2012, the Consumer Product Safety Commission received 11 reports where wind appeared to play a role in an inflatable incident involving injury. One death was reported. And 90 percent of the people in the other 10 cases had to be hospitalized due to injuries.

To help keep those numbers down, Grove said it's important to not use the bounce houses when winds go above 15 mph, and ask vendors for proof of insurance beforehand.

"You insure your car, you insure your house," Grove said. "These are your children. Why wouldn't you have them insured? It just makes sense."

Another thing parents can do is check the bounce house every hour on the hour to make sure none of the stakes have lifted up out of the grass or moved. If they have, move it over and re-secure it.