A Professional Obligation
First, we heard the ominous “freight train” high speed wind barreling down our street in the dark of night. Then, brief silence as the 80-year old oak tree pulled up from its roots and began its fall toward our house. The crash of the trunk and branches crushing our house didn’t just startle us but made our hearts pound as limbs randomly punched through the ceiling. A moment later, we smelled natural gas and knew we had to get out, but we weren’t sure we could even make it to the front door. Where was our exit? That stormy night, my perspective of emergency escape changed forever.
In early April, The Window Safety Task Force of the National Safety Council pushed for window safety awareness during its Window Safety Week, with a goal to “encourage parents and caregivers to take steps to observe window safety throughout the year.” With our vast audience of window buyers, we can easily partner with the WSTF in its pursuit of that goal.
Window safety awareness is two-fold: to prevent falls (into or out of) windows, and to enable emergency escape and rescue (through windows) at a moment’s notice. Consider it a professional obligation to spread this awareness. You can use the Window Safety Week Company Tool Kit to do so, which provides several lists of tips intended for specific audiences that enable all fenestration professionals to help spread the word about window safety.
I can relate to many of the safety tips in the Tool Kit because of my own experiences, but also because of stories I heard from former clients.
One client told me about how her five-year-old tripped during play and fell through a sash. Two other prospective clients told me they each had a child fall out of a second floor window. Accidents, of course, but such that can be prevented by following one of the most fundamental tips by the WSTF: “set and enforce rules about keeping children’s play away from windows or patio doors.”
To further prevent fall-outs, WSTF recommends keeping furniture—or anything children can climb—away from windows. This is good precaution, but not a sure thing. A child at one client’s home proudly showed me how he could scoot his play table over to the window to see out. Perhaps consequently, WSTF also recommends to simply “keep windows closed and locked when children are around.”
Prevention of a fall is the best measure, yet reducing the fall hazard by planting bushes or softening the landing is a supplemental tip. I wouldn’t have given this much credit except that, years ago, I was standing near the top of a ladder at a second-story window when the ladder footing lost its grip and kicked out from under me as I pulled the window out from the wall. On a very fast, face-first freefall to the ground, I was sure it was the beginning of a trip to the emergency room. But, aside from the expense of replacing the homeowner’s smashed bushes, some bruises and scratches (and a little pride), I avoided serious injury because the bushes were there to catch my fall.
Thankfully, I haven’t met with any homeowner where emergency escape and rescue was needed, though I’ve seen plenty of situations where window egress would have been nearly impossible. Sometimes egress access is blocked by a tall dresser or a window air conditioner. More often, I’ve toured through houses where I couldn’t open a single window to measure, much less escape, because they were all painted shut. I couldn’t help but worry for the homeowners. The urgency of emergency escape is just not obvious to them. Frankly, there was a time before the tree fell when it wasn’t to me, either.
Not any one safety component or effort can guarantee fall prevention and ensure emergency egress. It takes a combination of efforts to reduce the risk. The WSTF needs our help in bringing awareness to window safety. What better and easier way than sharing our experiences and the WSTF’s information with our clients?