Bottle rockets, firecrackers, and sparklers, oh my!

Dramatic fire explosions fill the sky, loud pops and cracks sound off, and the smell of sulfur fills the air – here comes the Fourth of July. Fireworks can be a fun way to celebrate, but they also can cause injuries and fires. According to the National Fire Protection Agency (NFPA), fireworks caused approximately 18,000 fires and 8,800 visits to the emergency room in 2009.

Celebrate and have a good time, but take precaution to prevent accidents:

• Always supervise children around fireworks. The Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) states that children and adults under the age of 20 account for more than half of firework-related injuries every year.

• Never light fireworks near a home, dry brush, grass, or other flammable materials.

• Keep a bucket of water or hose close to fireworks for emergencies.

• Soak fireworks in water before disposing to prevent trash fires.

• Do not attempt to relight "duds" or fireworks that haven't gone off.

• Maintain a safe distance from all bystanders and other fireworks before lighting fireworks.

• Store fireworks according to the instructions on the packaging.

• Never lean over a firework when lighting, and do not hold any lit fireworks unless they are made to be held.

• Do not try to make your own fireworks.

• Observe local laws for firework use.

Spontaneous combustion results in total loss

The owners checked the planning list: invitations were mailed; extra inventory was ordered and in; TV, radio, and newspapers ads were running; signage was delivered and hung; and everything was cleaned to a high shine. The last step was to seal the benches in the courtyard with linseed oil, and they'd be ready for their company's anniversary sale.

Three employees volunteered to finish the wood. They laid cardboard to catch any drips and used rags to work in the oil. When they were done, they rolled the rags up with the cardboard, put both in the garbage, and left for the night.

Spontaneous combustion sounds like sci-fi movie stuff. For this policyholder it was more like horror. While no one was injured, the fire that started in the garbage can that evening quickly spread and turned all their effort, investment, and excitement into a pile of charred rubble.

Dispose of oily rags, other materials properly

Materials that are damp or saturated with oil-based products — rags, clothing, steel wool, cardboard, filters, paint scrapings, etc. — can combust spontaneously. Through an auto-oxidation process, these materials can generate enough heat to start a fire with no flame, spark, or other ignition source.

NEVER dispose of rags, filters, or any material contaminated with an oil-based product in a regular waste container, garbage bag, or dumpster. Increased heat and lack of air circulation can contribute to spontaneous combustion. Instead, soak the contaminated materials with water and place them loosely inside an approved metal container or hand-wash and air-dry them.

ALWAYS consult the product label to identify a spontaneous combustion hazard and proper handling procedures. If a product is not in its original container with the label intact and readable, do not use it.

Products that can self-heat and self-ignite

Any oil-based products can spontaneously combust if handled improperly. Whether you use these products personally or professionally, make sure you follow all manufacturer's recommendations when cleaning or disposing of anything that came into contact with the product. Below are just some of the substances known to combust:

• Linseed oil
• Tung oil
• Pine oil
• Paint with drying oils
• Corn oil
• Cottonseed oil
• Soybean oil
• Menhaden oil
• Cod liver oil

Spontaneous combustion often results in total loss.

House destroyed in four seconds

It can take six months to build a house. It takes a tornado four seconds to destroy it.
An EF-2 or EF-3 tornado can have winds ranging from 111 mph to 165 mph. This is enough to level your house and crush your dreams faster than you can read this sentence.

According to the Insurance Institute for Business and Home Safety (IBHS), building codes in areas not prone to hurricanes only meet minimum life safety standards and are made to withstand winds less than 110 mph. Houses built to these codes will struggle to provide protection against even weak tornados.

A video from the IBHS simulates the effects of an EF-2 or EF-3 tornado on two houses. One is built to codes for areas that are not affected by hurricanes, and one is built to IBHS Fortified standards for protection against stronger winds.

Take a look at this video. Which house do you want to live in?

Tips from the IBHS to improve the safety of your house

Protect your family - install a safe room: A properly built safe room can withstand the impact of a 15-pound 2"x4" traveling at 100 mph and handle the forces of 250 mph winds.
Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) has vast information about safe rooms, including how to install one in your home.

Protect your home - build to IBHS Fortified standards: These standards will provide better protection for approximately 90 percent of tornado affected areas. However, building to these standards is not a substitute for a safe room.

The IBHS recommends creating a safe room first and then improving the strength of the home through sheathing walls, and reinforcing roof-wall connections and wall-foundation connections. The safe room provides safety for anyone in the house. Improving the strength of the home's structure will help decrease property damage caused by a tornado.

Keep in mind that houses are not designed to withstand stronger wind forces associated with EF-3, EF-4, or EF-5 tornados. The National Climactic Data Center (NCDC) states that 77 percent of tornados have wind speeds less than 110 mph, and the tornados that devastated Alabama and Missouri recently only account for one to two percent of tornados that affect the U.S. each year.

Do you have a safe room or IBHS Fortified house?

Top five reasons to use a direct auto repair program

The last thing you need to worry about when you're involved in an accident is what you should do with your car. To ease this stress, many insurers put direct repair programs in place. A direct repair program is a group of automobile repair shops an insurance company trusts to complete repairs in a quality, timely fashion.

Here are the top five reasons to use one:

1. The process is easy and convenient – simply select a network, shop, receive an estimate, and schedule repairs in one stop.

2. Your estimate for repair is approved quickly, often in as little as one day.

3. You save time and headaches because you're working with quality repair shops, and the claims process is streamlined.

4. Insurance companies can assist you during stressful times so you receive the best service possible.

5. Shops in direct repair networks typically are pre-screened to ensure you receive quality repairs that carry warranties, have quick turnaround time, and great customer service.

Your time is valuable and accidents are stressful. SECURA Insurance introduced SureChoice Repair SM in July 2010. Since then, many customers who were involved in auto accidents relied on the program to speed them through the collision repair process so they could get back to the important things in life.

Seven tips to keep your family safe in the swimming pool

Swimming pools can provide a refreshing retreat during the hot summer months, but they can also pose a major risk. According to the Consumer Product Safety Commission, approximately 60 percent of drowning deaths occur in residential pools. Even more unsettling - drowning is the second-leading cause of unintentional injury-related deaths in children.
Proactively prevent risk of injury or death from drowning. Keep these pool safety tips in mind:
Supervise children and use the buddy system. No one should ever swim alone. Always supervise children when around the pool, and adults should use the buddy system (have another person present just in case there is an emergency).
Keep toys away from the pool when not in use. Toys in the pool area could lure children toward the water, where they can easily fall in.
Surround the pool with a fence or barrier on all sides. Ideally, the pool should be fenced-in separately from the rest of the yard. If the house acts as the fourth side of a barrier to the pool, install a pool alarm to alert you when someone enters the pool area.
Install a self-closing, self-latching gate. The latch should be at least 54 inches from the ground to keep it out of small children's reach.
Do not substitute the ability to swim for fences and gates around a swimming pool. Knowing how to swim does not prevent drowning. Even adults who have the ability to swim can drown in a pool if other factors, such as alcohol, are involved.
Keep children away from drains and other openings. Drains and other openings in the pool can create dangerous traps for children. Hair and clothing can get stuck in these systems, trapping victims underwater.
Create a pool safety kit. This should include:
o A standard first aid kit for minor injuries such as cuts and scrapes.
o A flotation device for pool rescues.
o Heavy duty scissors to cut hair or clothing in the event it gets stuck in a drain or filter.
o A phone to call emergency personnel.