Kate Hitter holds her youngest daughter, Scarlett, under a third-story window at their Lake Stevens home on May 1 in Lake Stevens. While the family was moving in in 2017, Scarlett fell through a screened window and landed on the concrete patio 30 feet below. (Andy Bronson / The Herald)

Kate Hitter holds her youngest daughter, Scarlett, under a third-story window at their Lake Stevens home on May 1 in Lake Stevens. While the family was moving in in 2017, Scarlett fell through a screened window and landed on the concrete patio 30 feet below. (Andy Bronson / The Herald)

Window falls are almost as predictable as summer

A Snohomish County group has advice on letting a cool breeze in while keeping kids safe.

LAKE STEVENS — The Hitters were the newest residents of Lake Stevens when Scarlett, 2, fell from a window to the concrete 30 feet below.

Her mother, Katherine Hitter, grew up in Las Vegas, where 100-degree heat and desert dust leave about two weeks a year when opening windows seems reasonable.

So she never gave much thought to window locks. She does now.

It was moving day April 1, 2017. Hitter had gone down the street to unload stuff from the car, while her husband and her father pieced together a bed in the third-floor master bedroom of their new home, off 20th Street NE.

Scarlett and her sister, Charlotte, also a toddler at the time, were in the same room, a few feet away. But the men had their backs turned. The girls climbed onto a short stool that was set down too close to a window.

“They were just being silly, looking out the window at birds, looking for deer or squirrels or something,” Hitter said.

Their dad turned around. Scarlett was gone. She survived the fall. Some families haven’t been as lucky.

Almost 30 window falls have been recorded by Providence Regional Medical Center Everett since August 2015, according to statistics provided by the hospital. That’s a complete snapshot for the hospital, but not for all of Snohomish County. That’s in part because some patients will be taken straight to a Seattle hospital.

A state Department of Health report showed at least 21 window falls in the county in 2017. Just about all of them are infants and toddlers, in tall houses or apartments.

The falls have become almost as predictable as summer, when people start to crack their windows.

Shawneri Guzman, community educator for South County Fire, keeps a running list. It grows with the heat waves.

A 4-year-old suffered abdominal injuries in a two-story fall April 11 in south county.

Two weeks later, a 2-year-old fell 20 feet in Marysville. A trip to the emergency room revealed no serious injuries.

A window was left open for fresh air around 9 a.m. on a Sunday morning, May 13, when a child pushed the screen. The toddler, 2, was treated for serious facial injuries at Harborview Medical Center in Seattle.

This month two more children were taken to Providence, on June 5 and 7. One had serious head injuries. And in the coming days, high temperatures are expected in the 80s.

Two cities, Lake Stevens and Marysville, seem to have an unusually high number of falls, Guzman said. Health privacy laws make it difficult to accurately break down the data, but it’s notable that both cities have seen rapid growth in the past decade, bringing out-of-towners to new multi-story apartments — in a region where many people don’t bother with air conditioning.

The Hitters moved here from Nevada in search of a better job market, a change of pace and a climate where they don’t have to bear the constant heat.

“There’s a couple of things that I miss about Las Vegas,” Hitter said. “But here you’re not dying in the heat like when you go out to the Strip, or out to the lake.”

That day in April the sun wasn’t oppressive, but after a Washington winter, a sunny high of 55 degrees can be T-shirt and shorts weather, if you want it to be. The Hitters had opened the windows halfway, with the screens on. A screen is not strong enough to stop a child.

Katherine returned to the house, confused to find her older daughter, Charlotte, by the back door. She led her mom outside. The men had called 911. They were tending to Scarlett.

“I was so mad at my husband and father, just upset, in the moment, and I had to push that aside,” Hitter said. “I got over it. It wasn’t their fault. They could’ve been standing right next to her. The same thing might have happened.”

Scarlett suffered bad scratches and scuffs. She tried to get up. Her mother kept her still. Paramedics showed up moments later and started to put IV tubes in her. Scarlett yelled at them to leave her alone.

An ambulance took her to Providence Regional Medical Center Everett. She was transferred to Harborview. Doctors found a spinal fracture and a small hole in a space around her lung.

All things considered, she was in pretty good shape.

“It could’ve been horrible,” Hitter said. “We were told multiple times by paramedics that she had a guardian angel watching over her.”

Safe Kids Snohomish County, a group that Guzman coordinates, offers the following advice to parents:

Screens are meant to keep bugs out, not children in. Most screens withstand less than 5 pounds of pressure before breaking free.

Never open a window more than 4 inches. Install window guards.

Keep kids from climbing near windows. For crawlers and climbers, move chairs, cribs and other furniture away from windows. Active supervision is key and close windows during nap time.

Never move a child who appears to be seriously injured after a fall. Call 911 and let trained medical personnel handle it.

Scarlett’s injuries eventually healed. Hitter, a stay-at-home mom, talked on the phone from a playground this spring, as both girls ran and played. She chose to speak about their experience as a warning to others.

“You can be on top of your kids, a helicopter parent all the time,” Hitter said. “But it just takes one little thing, to trip and fall out a window, or down the stairs.”

Maybe the girls’ parents are a bit overprotective now, Hitter conceded. They put gates on the stairs and locks on all of their windows, even on the bottom floor, she said.

“We’re not taking any chances.”

Caleb Hutton: 425-339-3454; chutton@heraldnet.com. Twitter: @snocaleb.

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