Indoor trampoline parks have exploded in growth both in North Texas and across the United States, prompting industry leaders to set voluntary safety standards in an effort to minimize the risk of injuries.
Six years ago, there were only six indoor trampoline parks across the country. Now that number has jumped to about 160, according to Mark Goldman, the COO of Jumpstreet, which has six locations in Texas.
The industry is largely unregulated in Texas and nationally. As a result of the lack of regulation and the increase of parks, trade group International Association of Trampoline Parks recently helped create and approve voluntary guidelines. Designed to reduce hazards, they were set by ASTM International, a nonprofit that develops and publishes standards.
In Texas, bounce houses are the only part of a trampoline park that is subject to state regulation. The inflatables have state-mandated, annual independent inspections.
Goldman said he's in favor of additional oversight.
"It's most important that the public feels safe, and we think that the standard makes that safe, and we would like that applied to every indoor trampoline facility," he said.
Representatives from parks such as Jumpstreet and Sky Zone, the first trampoline park, helped write the ASTM standards, which include the design, installation and operation of parks.
"The hope is, is that, yes, there are injuries that are avoided as a result of being in compliance with the standard. But do I think it will eliminate injuries all together? No, absolutely not. I don't think you can eliminate injuries in any physical activity -- including walking -- ever," said Jeff Platt, Sky Zone CEO and IATP president.
Trampoline parks do not have to adopt the guidelines because they're voluntary. And Platt and Goldman told the NBC 5 Investigates Consumer Unit that retrofitting parks may take up to a year and could be costly.
They believe parents should look for certain safety measures when and where their kids are jumping:
- Make sure the trampolines don't look too crowded. There should be one person per 6-foot-by-10-foot area.
- There should be one court monitor, such as a referee, for every 32 kids.
- Little kids should not be jumping with bigger ones. They should be separated by height and weight.
- Springs should not be visible.
- There should be a netting system below the trampoline in case the trampoline breaks.
- In the foam pit, there should be a trampoline bed underneath it.
However, even with standards, accidents and injuries can happen.
With the proliferation of trampoline parks, Dr. Christine Ho, an orthopedic surgeon at Children's Medical Center of Dallas, said she's seeing and hearing about more injuries, at least anecdotally.
The Metroplex has at least 10 indoor trampoline parks. NBC 5 has obtained 911 records from these locations that show there have been at least 37 calls to paramedics at these parks in the past year.
And that is just calls to 911. The figure does not include parents who take injured kids to a doctor or hospital themselves.
"Injuries and fractures occur in a second," Ho said.
She studied trampoline injuries before the parks multiplied. In her 2010 study, most of the 300 trampoline-related injuries she tracked occurred in backyards and while parents were watching.
Yet she still routinely treats trampoline-related injuries, namely fractures. She said arm and elbow breaks are the most common, as kids try to catch their fall. And it doesn't take high-risk tricks to cause an accident, she said.
"Even if you're standing there as a parent, watching, that doesn't protect your kid from getting injured," Ho said. "I am loath to tell people that you shouldn't have your parties at a trampoline park. But I think the message as parents is to go in with eyes wide open."
Joan Bohan has watched her teen son, Tanner, flip, jump and do tricks on trampolines for years.
"I'm terrified for him," she said.
One day last year, she got the call no parent ever wants. Tanner Bohan, an admitted daredevil, injured himself when he went for a double backflip and landed wrong.
"I just wanted the pain to go away," he said.
An ambulance took him to the emergency room, and he ultimately ended up at Children's Medical Center with a broken growth plate in his right leg.
"There's, like, just something bulging out on the side, and I knew it wasn't my kneecap," he said.
He was in a cast from his ankle to his thigh for three months.
"You don't think that it's going happen to your child until it actually does," his mother said.
However, when he could return to jumping, he did, at Jumpstreet in Dallas, where he also works as a court monitor to police the trampolines in the hopes of preventing injuries.
He's willing to take the risk again, but he also said he's more serious about safety with kids under his watch. His message is simple: "Be careful. Be safe. Don't do anything stupid."