East Texas amusement operators warn against illegal businesses

East Texas amusement operators warn against illegal businesses
Source: KTRE staff
Source: KTRE staff
Source: KTRE staff
Source: KTRE staff

LUFKIN, TX (KTRE) - When Clyde Dickens drives around East Texas on the weekends, he spots bounce houses and inflatable water slides that he knows are not legal.

Dickens owns A-1 Party Rentals in Lufkin and said he has no problems following state regulations even when others do not.

"Probably 85 percent are not certified," Dickens said. "There are people who know, they just don't want to abide by it. They are all over facebook. It is an illegal operation when you get down to it."

All bounce house operators are expected to follow guidelines set by by the American Society for Testing and Materials. Operators are supposed to let renters know about manufacturer standards as well as provide them with a way to tie down the inflatable. Texas is one of 17 states that have their own laws and regulations.

"In the early 2000s we started to notice the popularity of the inflatables going up," Texas Department of Insurance Media Spokesman Jerry Hagins said. "In 2009, the legislature went ahead and added them to the list of amusement rides that need to be inspected annually."

Bill Hoggard is an inspector from the Dallas area. Hoggard estimates he inspects around 3,000 units a year in multiple states. Hoggard believes the numbers are split on knowing the law.

"I would say 50 percent of those who are not in compliance don't know and the other half either know, don't know or are just skirting around it the best way they can," Hoggard said.

Operating a business with inflatables can be costly if it is not done under state guidelines.

"If a business does not have the proper certification from the state they can get a class B misdemeanor," Hagins said. "They can also have the business shut down."

The Texas laws require businesses to follow the guidelines from the ASTM as well as undergoing a yearly inspection on all inflatables, registering for a state sticker for each structure and carrying a $1 million insurance policy.

"It's generally anywhere between $400-500 dollars for the total inspection and each certificate from the state is $45 per unit," University Rental owner Jim Elder said. Rental "It is frustrating because sometimes they will rent them for cheaper than we do and so that makes the customer wonder but it is for the safety of the customer and for the safety of the people in it."

Elder said this past year, he was told that one of his units did not pass inspection and he was forced to get a new unit.

"It was cheaper for me to get a safer piece of equipment then to try and patch up the one and hope it worked," Elder said. "It was also safer."

Dickens wishes more could be done to stop the illegal operations.

"I mean, I would like it if law enforcement could go after these guys," Dickens said. "I know they have a lot to deal with, but taking time to get these guys would be nice."

Elder and Dickens said there are things customers can do to make sure their children are safe this summer when renting out inflatables.

"You always want to ask to see the inspection sticker," Dickens said. "It is good to look over the set up and make sure there are no tears in the netting and it is secure. The netting can cause arms and legs to get caught up and that can be bad."

It is also important to make sure the inflatable is secured properly to the ground.

"You want to make sure the right amount of stakes or sand bags are used," Elder said. "I always provide the people with the right amount and tell them how to use them."

Despite all the safety regulations, the experts say common sense is also needed.

"I would say about 90 percent of all accidents with amusement rides and inflatables is from the person's fault," Hoggard said. "You just need to be smart when you get in these."

"It doesn't take responsibility from the adult," Dickens said. "You have to have adult supervision. You want to keep the big kids and little kids apart and make sure someone is always watching the kids playing inside."

The Texas Department of Insurance keeps a record of the companies that are currently legal when it comes to inspections and insurance. The list is updated on the last Friday of every month. The list can be found here.

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