Moonwalks, bounce houses or jumpers, whatever you call them, these inflatable rides elicit wide eyes and squeals of delight from children of all ages.
But in just the past two months alone, inflatables have been responsible for injuring 40 people, according to the watchdog Web site rideaccidents.com. Most recently at a youth soccer game in Oceanside, N.Y., 13 people were injured, one critically, when two rides and a slide became airborne.
The reports are alarming and enough to make many parents who have thought of renting one or allowing their child to play on one think twice. However, at least a couple local parents believe that responsibility lies with mom and dad as well as the ride operators.
The Associated Press
Noah Sherrill, 12, leaps high in the air on a Banzai Double Cannon Blast Slide inflatable pool at his Decatur, Ala., home on Friday.
"I've been a parent for 16 years and these have been around since my oldest was little," said Crysta Bourdon, mom of six. "It's just like everything else - you have to be aware ... check for red flags, like are they tied down or properly weighted. You must trust the people that are operating them."
Bourdon said her family usually passes on the inflatables that are unsupervised, overcrowded or seem to be unsteady. Locally, she said she hasn't ever seen any issues.
Logan Stanley of Marietta agreed.
"I'm a parent of two kids ages six and two and I'm very cautious of what they do," she said. "I would rather them play in the bounce houses than ride on carnival rides. They just seem safer to me and my kids love them."
Stanley said she always checks to make sure there aren't too many kids in the bouncers and that the ride is clean and tied down.
"This has never been an issue with the ones that we've been on locally," she said.
In the case of the Oceanside event, strong gusts of winds picked up the inflatables and sent them rolling across a field.
A 36-year-old woman suffered head and spinal injuries when the flying slide landed on top of her.
In a little more than a week beginning in late April, two slides collapsed at separate events in California, injuring nine children, according to media reports.
In Arizona, two accidents in the Tucson area injured four children, including sisters who were inside a bounce house in February when wind bursts tossed it onto a roof. In April, a boy and girl were in a bounce house that was blown across three lanes of traffic.
"I wish this was a rarity but it's not. It happens all the time," said Jim Barber, a spokesman for the National Association of Amusement Ride Safety Officials, based in Brandon, Fla. "These are probably the most dangerous amusement devices they have."
It's not the rides that are the problem, he said, it's the way they are set up and supervised.
One local company, Leaps 'N Bounce Backyard Inflatables of Marietta, takes steps to ensure that parents are properly trained on things to look for that might pose a hazard, including having too many children on at once or allowing older and younger children to bounce together.
"Most of the parents are pretty responsible," said owner and operator Carl Bunner, who explained that having a certified operator on hand for an event is recommended but many people don't want to pay the extra cost.
Some parents also balk when a change needs to be made due to weather.
"We always recommend that people have a back-up plan ... the units can't be operated in the rain at all," Bunner said. "Most customers will be adamant that their event goes on but we stress the importance of safety over everything. If someone gets hurt, it isn't fun anymore."
Bunner, who has been enjoying a booming business for close to two years and hasn't had to submit one claim to his insurance, said that he has been in contact with people who were on hand at the New York disaster but can only speculate about what might have happened.
"There were several different companies there that day and this one company is the only one that was affected (by wind)," he said. "I would say this was probably a drop-off situation that was only parent supervised and, from the video (aired on television), it looked like it wasn't completely tethered."
When consumers are looking for a reputable local business, Bunner said that they should make sure the company is insured and that the rides have been inspected by the states of Ohio and West Virginia. He said people should not hesitate to ask for verification.
Time Well Wasted Backyard Inflatables is another locally-owned and operated company, owned by Deron Alkire, who started the company after watching others in the business drop the inflatables off at a school function without even setting them up.
"There are a lot of people who will just start up a company but not go through the training process," Alkire said. "A lot of these accidents come from a lack of supervision ... if the inflatables are set up and supervised properly, they are just as fun as anything else."
Alkire runs down a checklist with customers who opt not to pay for a trained operator and they must sign a waiver.
"You'll get those bad apples, like you do in everything," he said. "But if someone is at their party, at their house, they don't want to risk getting sued."
For added peace of mind, the Safe Inflatable Operators Training Organization recommends that consumers check to see if the company has gone through their training program and can be verified on their Web site, www.sioto.org.
"Certifications have to be renewed each year and a test is administered," said Tammie Mason, training director with SIOTO. "There are a lot of companies that will use the symbol on their Web site but have never gone through the training. If they aren't listed on our Web site, they aren't verified and I update the site daily."
Both Time Well Wasted and Leaps "N Bounce have their certification, though it isn't required.
Most injuries from inflatables involve bumps and bruises but, as in Oceanside, there are more severe hazards. Most accidents are caused by improper anchoring, high winds and lack of supervision, according to a risk management advisory which New Hartford, N.Y.-based Utica National Insurance issued to groups which use inflatables.
A Pennsylvania man died June 2010 just days after an inflatable slide collapsed and pinned him at a Cleveland Indians game.
A 5-year-old boy was killed in March 2010 when he fell off an inflatable and landed on a concrete floor at an indoor entertainment center in Wichita, Kan.
In January 2010, winds blew a bounce house at Florida birthday party into a pond with a 5-year-old girl inside. Neighbors pulled the child out of the water.
Regulating amusement rides is left up to each state. While most have laws and inspectors overseeing mechanical rides at amusement parks and fairs, only a handful give inflatables the same scrutiny.
A Consumer Product Safety Commission report released in 2005 linked the growing popularity of inflatables with an increasing number of injuries treated at hospital emergency rooms from 1997 to 2004.
The agency found there were an estimated 1,300 injuries in 1997 and 4,900 injuries in 2004.
The Consumer Product Safety Commission warns that operators should anchor inflatables to the manufacturer's requirements and that bigger rides such as slides should have a least two people operating them. It also says weight limits should be watched closely.
The Associated Press contributed.