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Who Ya Gonna Call for a Toilet Lock?

October 10, 1991

NEW YORK (AP) _ They listen to whale sounds at birth, they eat special-delivery baby food, they ride around in $1,000 European prams. And now the babies of yuppies can take their first steps in homes babyproofed by a professional - Mr. Babyproofer.

″There’s no place like home,″ says Mr. Babyproofer, ″for things that are dangerous to the young.″

Mr. Babyproofer is Anthony Simnowski, a young father and contractor who was spending a lot of time adapting apartments and houses for children. So last year, he branched out and formed New York Baby Proofing Co. For a fee, he will rid a home of the myriad threats to young life and limb.

Most of his clients are young professional couples who are security conscious - or security obsessed - but lack the time or the know-how to babyproof their own places.

For $45, Simnowski will evaluate a home and explain what must be done to make it safe for creeping, crawling and toddling. The work itself can cost thousands, but most apartments can be babyproofed for about $300 - ″less than a stroller,″ according to Simnowski’s wife and partner, Mary Ann.

Although some prudent souls retain the Simnowskis before the children are ambulatory (and sometimes even before they are born), most call for help only when the need has become all too apparent.

When Simnowski arrives, there’s often been what he describes as ″an incident″ - a fall, a burn, an electrical shock. ″Generally the child is crawling around, and the parents are pulling their hair out.″

Parents such as Neil Ochsner and Janine Golding-Ochsner, whose son Joseph crawled at five months and is walking at nine months. In his short but active life, Joseph has pulled a telephone answering machine down on his head, yanked a stereo speaker off the wall and sampled the dog’s food. ″He’s a little menace,″ says his adoring mother.

Simnowski is often dismayed by what he sees. ″There are a lot of common sense things people are oblivious to. It’s amazing what you find.″

You find potentially poisonous plants on the floor; heavy lamps on tables with long, easy-to-grab tablecloths; Ming vases on coffee tables. You find a chair near a window, or extension cords spreading out like jungle vines, or an electrical outlet without socket covers or even a plate.

Although some clients believe they have substantially babyproofed their homes, ″most have done a quarter of what they should,″ Simnowski says. ″There are a thousand things they never thought of.″

Things like Velcro snaps for stereo cabinet doors; VCR covers; toilet seat locks.

Toilet seat locks? ″Children like to play in water,″ he explains.

Some apartments have dangerously hot water, so Simnowski installs bathtub faucet handle covers to prevent a child from turning on the water, and sometimes a thermostat to limit water temperature.

Simnowski also installs the obvious: window guards, radiator enclosures, cabinet locks and gates. He tacks electrical cords to the bottom of tables and covers door knobs with a fitting that makes them difficult to turn.

Home should be safer - more than 2 million children a year are injured there - but why hire someone to do what generations of parents did themselves?

Janine Golding-Ochsner, an investment banker, managed to survive childhood even though she grew up in a home that had never been visited by a pro babyproofer.

But her house had lots of space and relatively few appliances; now she lives in a two-bedroom Manhattan apartment jammed with electrical devices and other potential hazards. And she is pregnant.

″I thought of everything that could go wrong,″ she says, ″but I couldn’t do anything about it myself.″ So she called Simnowski.

Jennifer Strabley-Brown, a Manhattan apartment dweller whose infant son, William, has yet to crawl, agrees.

″He gives you a level of comfort that you don’t have if it’s your first child and you don’t know what you’re doing.″

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