MALTA — Officials said this week they are preparing a local law that would prohibit town residents from renting or setting up bounce houses and similar inflatable devices for events held on town property.
David Meager, representing the Adirondack Trust Insurance Agency, gave a presentation at the May 15 town board meeting that focused on a bulletin released in March by the group New York Municipal Insurance Reciprocal (NYMIR).
Meager told the board that, at present, the town has “absolutely no control” when private citizens are allowed to rent or set up inflatable devices for functions held on town property. He spoke in favor of a new law that would prohibit such actions.
Malta Councilman John Hartzell acted on behalf of Supervisor Vincent DeLucia, who was absent at the meeting.
Hartzell instructed Town Attorney Thomas Peterson to draft the new law.
“The trend has been upward in terms of deaths and injuries,” Meager said of bounce houses and other inflatable devices, which in recent years have continued gaining in popularity among local families.
In 2014, media reports indicated that two young boys sustained serious injuries in South Glens Falls after strong wind gusts caused a bounce house to go airborne.
According to the March 17 NYMIR bulletin, in the year before the South Glens Falls incident, there were more than 47,000 injuries reported nationwide related to inflatable devices (more recent figures were not provided).
Audrey Ball, Malta’s director of Parks, Recreation and Human Services, said any law passed by the board would not affect the town’s rental of a bounce house at the annual Malta Community Day event, which is scheduled for September 9.
Yet Ball echoed Meager’s comments to the board. The David Meager Malta Community Center is named after the former town supervisor.
“I also feel it’s an awful high risk for the town,” Ball said.
Ball told the town board that her office rarely receives requests for permission to set up inflatable devices.
Still, in a May 4 letter to the board, using common legal terms, she made it clear that “public use of inflatables during private parties held at town parks” remains a serious concern.
“Although a business provides a certificate of insurance naming the town ‘additional insured’ and signs a ‘hold harmless,’ there is concern that the town could be found negligent if there was an injury to a child because town staff was not available to verify that proper policies and procedures are followed,” Ball wrote.
“The town’s insurance advisor recommended that the town not permit bounce houses as they are not covered by the town’s insurance policy,” she added.
Ball also noted how the declining costs of inflatable devices have made them more affordable for many families. Inflatables can be purchased outright for $200, or rented for four hours at a cost of about $150, she said.
“At the end of the day, it’s children who are really at risk,” offered Kevin Crawford, executive director of NYMIR.
Crawford said NYMIR—which represents nearly 900 political entities across New York, including water and sewer districts—is encouraging municipal governments to pass laws similar to the one being considered in Malta.
When hiring any inflatable companies, according to Crawford, members of the public should prioritize at least three key factors: both predicted and actual wind speeds; how the devices are secured to the ground; and adult supervision the whole time kids are playing in them.
Inflatables are “very safe if they’re installed properly,” explained Thomas Barber, owner of the Clifton Park-based company Bounce Around. He said the company offers more than 100 different types of inflatables, and that he has repeatedly supplied those used at the Malta Community Day event.
Barber said industry standards call for ground stakes that are 18 inches long, but that Bounce Around secures larger inflatable devices with stakes measuring up to 48 inches.
The inflatable involved in the 2014 South Glens Falls accident weighed only 25 pounds, Barber said, while a comparable Bounce Around jump house weighs 150 pounds.
“If you hire a reputable company,” Barber added, “you’ll never have a problem.”