King County Councilmember Kathy Lambert knows how impactful a fall can be. Her father still talks about the time he witnessed a child fall three stories from an apartment balcony in San Francisco in 1950.
He was a police officer at the time and spotted the baby dangling above him. After the fall, he rushed the baby to the hospital and had dispatch call the child’s mother.
“He still talks about this, and he’s 95 years old,” Lambert said. “So I know for a fact that first responders are also people who are impacted by seeing something totally preventable.”
After a toddler survived falling from a sixth-story window in Redmond on April 10, local officials are making a push to educate parents on fall prevention.
A demonstration event was held to raise awareness on fall prevention on April 18. At the King County Sheriff’s Office, Lambert was joined by Snoqualmie Fire Department Chief Mark Correira and others.
A self-proclaimed advocate for fall-prevention programs, Correira outlined issues he saw in his city — a place with a population of 13,000 and 13 percent of that figure are younger than 5.
In the city’s history of similar incidents, over a period of five years, officials realized they were seeing one or two incidents each year. And one year, Correira said, they saw a spike of up to four or five.
“We realized we needed to do something about this,” he said. “As the community grew, we had a lot of kids falling out of these second-floor windows.”
They ultimately implemented a program that emphasized window locks and advocated ways to keep kids safe.
It was so successful they haven’t had an incident since, he said.
In many cases, parents or caregivers are in the same room and they see it happen, said Dr. Brian Johnston, chief of pediatrics at Harborview Medical Center.
“They just don’t recognize that the insect screens are not designed to keep children from falling…[and] these injuries can be devastating and the emotional impact can be lifelong,” Johnston said.
But the injuries are very much preventable events, he said.
At a county board of health meeting, Johnston echoed the same sentiments. He said the hospital admits more than 800 children each year, and the most common cause of injury is falling. That increases during the summer as people leave their windows open to cool their houses.
“Each year, starting right around this time, we see an uptick in the number of children presented to us for evaluation,” Johnston said.
The average age of children treated at Harborview for fall-related injuries is 3 years old, and 96 percent fall though a window screen that can’t support their weight. Toddlers are often top-heavy, meaning they fall head first. About half the children treated require intense care and common injuries include skull fractures, traumatic brain, and arm and internal injuries.
The good news is there’s precedent for reducing the number of window falls. The city of Chicago started a coalition that includes hospitals, city agencies and prevention groups. That coalition created Stop the Falls, an organization distributing low-cost products like window stops to families. That effort is coupled with a robust public information campaign, which has caused the rate of falls to plummet by 50 percent during the last 15 years, Johnston said.
“From a prevention standpoint there is a lot that we can do,” he said.
There are a range of ways parents can make their homes safer as well. Specifically, aftermarket modifications like window guards, similar to stair gates, and stick-on stoppers to prevent windows from opening more than four inches can be installed.
At the sheriff’s office demonstration, Johnston and Lambert modeled the easy use of a plastic window stopper and advocated against using wood dowels for safety. Toddlers, being clever creatures, can potentially grab the device and move it easily, they said.
On April 10, a 20-month-old boy was taken to Harborview Medical Center after surviving a fall from a sixth-floor apartment in downtown Redmond. The toddler was found on top of a parked car and was conscious at the time.
Officials say the injuries could have been much worse, had it not been for the car absorbing some of the impact.
“This could’ve been much different if that car hadn’t been there,” said James Perry, spokesperson for the Redmond Police Department, according to a story by the Redmond Reporter at the time of the incident.
Redmond police said the boy was at home with his mother and two older siblings and had been put down for a nap when the fall occurred. The boy’s 4-year-old sister noticed her brother was missing and the open window.
The window screen had been pushed away from the building, as is often seen when someone falls out of a window. The bottom of the window was about one foot off the ground and above an electric baseboard wall heater, police said. That may have allowed the toddler to reach the window and fall out of it.
As warm weather approaches, Perry said parents should be aware of small children who may have access to windows, especially in apartments.