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January - February 2003


Window Fall Prevention
Education is Best Route to Window Safety
by Michael Fischer

For Ron and Meg Gilmore of Scottsdale, Ariz., Saturday, September 28, 2002, began as a typical weekend morning. Their 5-year-old son, Korey, had invited a friend to sleep over the night before. The two boys, also soccer teammates, were in Korey’s room getting ready for practice when they began a game of catch with a stuffed toy football. Attempting to catch a throw that was over his head, Korey lost his balance and fell against an open window. Korey struck the window screen, knocking it out, and fell 21 feet to the driveway below. Less than a half-hour later, he had been airlifted to Good Samaritan Hospital in Phoenix with a skull fracture and multiple bruises. 

Close Calls after a Fall 
The Gilmores were luckier than some; Korey was seriously injured, but after surgery and treatment he is expected to make a full recovery. Three weeks after the fall, Korey took to the soccer field wearing a protective helmet. 

Ron Gilmore understands how lucky his family is; he contacted the Window and Door Manufacturers Association (WDMA) to learn more about child window falls. He asked what he could do to help spread the word about the risk to children and what steps parents can take to help avoid these types of accidents. 

“I want to do whatever I can to help parents understand the dangers—so hopefully no other family will go through what we went through,” said Gilmore.

Escape and Rescue 
Falls from elevated windows are a risk, especially for young children. The window and door industry is extremely sensitive about the issue of child safety and falls from open windows. The industry is also concerned about the issue of emergency escape and rescue. 

There are even more compelling and frequent cases in which people, especially children, seniors and the disabled, are trapped in a fire without the needed quick and easy means of emergency exit. In the case of a fire, windows in sleeping rooms may provide the only means of escape or entry for rescue personnel trying to evacuate trapped persons. The International Residential Code contains specific requirements for the provision of windows in sleeping rooms to provide that very means of escape. 

Recently, however, various parties concerned about child window falls have sought to place windowsill height restrictions into the code that may conflict with the need for emergency escape and rescue. Although it was defeated in the public comment period, ICC Proposal FS91-02 sought to establish a minimum windowsill height of 36 inches in an effort to eliminate accidental child falls. We expect this proposal to be reintroduced again in some form during the next code cycle, and are prepared to continue to get the message out about why this proposal may be detrimental.

The WDMA holds steady that window safety means more than preventing child falls. There must be a balance between fall prevention and emergency escape/rescue. Since education can be a key ingredient in diminishing the incidents of child falls, public awareness is the best route. Parents must be educated about measures to help avoid child window falls and the potential for injury. 

In fact, one of the reasons we are resistant to the proposal is that we have found no substantiation that the existing sill heights of windows are related to or contribute to falls or that increasing the height would reduce the number of falls. The proposal was wrought with language inconsistencies, unsubstantiated evidence and confusing and conflicting claims and statements.

As previously introduced, adoption of the proposal could have a disastrous impact on the use of windows as escape routes in emergency evacuation. This sill height restriction could put the locking devices of double-hung casement windows above the maximum allowable height under ADA regulations for individuals confined to wheelchairs. 

To achieve the minimum emergency egress requirement, the 36-inch sill height could eliminate almost all double-hung windows from any application with 8-foot ceilings. The use of these windows and the ability to open the upper portion to provide ventilation—thus keeping the lower portion where children are more likely to be playing closed—is an important part of parental education.

Employing Safety Measures
WDMA agrees with the experts who study child safety. Recommended safety measures include:

• Education. Provide parents with common-sense safety tips to recognize threats and act appropriately. Provide children with safety warnings;

• Parental supervision. Above all else, attention and supervision to the activities of babies and toddlers can provide the best protection and reduce the likelihood of window falls as well as a host of other common injuries. 

• Furniture placement. Any furniture that a child can climb is a potential hazard;

• Releasable window stops and guards. Proper use of guards in accordance with ASTM standards, in keeping with local code requirements.

We must fight for a balanced approach to code solutions, and ensure that emergency escape routes will do what they are intended to do. Enlisting the help of people like Ron and Meg Gilmore (and Korey) to spread the word will help bring the issue into clear focus. 


Michael Fischer serves as director of codes and regulatory compliance for the Window and Door Manufacturers Association, based in Des Plaines, Ill. 

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