Sunday, April 30, 2000

Window falls spur concern

Hospital stresses safety

By Tim Bonfield
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        September 1997: 7-year-old Brianna Thompson died two weeks after she fell from a third-story window at an Avondale apartment building.

        July 1997: 3-year-old DeShannon Gilbert leaned against a torn screen at a West End public housing complex. He fell four floors, suffering serious internal injuries.

        June 1996: Orlando Dews, 1, died a day after crawling out an open fourth-floor window in Over-the-Rhine.

        As long as there have been open windows, loose screens and fast-moving children, emergency medical staffs have been dealing with the consequences.

        Now, after publishing a study on local injuries from window falls, researchers at Children's Hospital Medical Center are reviving calls made two years ago for the city to require window guards on the upper floors of apartment buildings.

        From 1991 through 1997, at least 86 Tristate children have been injured falling out of windows, including four who died, according to the study published last month in the Journal of Urban Health.

        This year, the hospital has treated six children for injuries from window falls, including two last week. None was fatal, spokesman Jim Feuer said.

        “If guards were in place, most of the accidents would not have occurred. Unfortunately, there are no regulations requiring window guards in the city of Cincinnati,” said Dr. Kim Stone, a pediatrician and the study's main author.

        Injuries from window falls occur mostly during warm weather, primarily in low-income neighborhoods where air conditioning is less common. The study reported that 80 percent of children treated at Children's Hospital for window-fall injuries lived in the city of Cincinnati.

        Typically, the injured children were under 5 years old. They usually fell after leaning against a screen or playing on furniture near an open window, the study said.

        “Now is the season. This summer we will see more children falling from windows. One in 20 will die,” said Dr. Bruce Lanphear, an environmental health expert at Children's Hospital and a former member of the Cincinnati Board of Health. “We know there are ways to reduce those injuries. It's simply a matter of political will.”

        A window guard is a metal grate that covers the lower half of a window. In New York City, health department-approved models range widely in design, appearance and price.

        The Greater Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky Apartment Association has opposed window-guard regulations.

        “The simple fact is that window guards don't work,” said Charles Tassell, the association's director of government affairs. “Even the (city) administration thinks they're a bad idea. What works is educating people about where to place their furniture so that children can't get to windows.”

        However, health officials say window guards have saved lives in New York and Boston.

        Since 1976, New York has required window guards on apartments housing children under 11.

        Since the law was enacted, the New York health depart ment reports that the number of children falling from windows has dropped from 217 in 1976 to 34 in 1998, spokesman John Gadd said.

        In Boston, a voluntary window-guard campaign led by the city and the Children's Hospital there since 1993 has reduced injuries from window falls by half, according to the hospital.

        While the Cincinnati Fire Division has no objection to window guards as long as they don't block fire escapes, the city building inspections and health departments have resisted the concept.

        In June 1998, a building inspections staff report estimated that it would cost $3.6 million to install window guards for an estimated 77,000 housing units. The cost could chase away real estate investment, the report said.


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