Prevent carbon monoxide poisoning in your home

As temperatures drop, you turn on the heat to keep your home warm. But the increased use of heating and fuel-burning appliances in winter means a higher risk of carbon monoxide poisoning.

In the U.S., 150 people die each year from carbon monoxide poisoning, according to the U.S. Fire Administration.

Keep your family safe with these reminders:

Understand the risk
Carbon monoxide is an odorless, colorless gas, which can make it deadly — you and your family could be exposed without knowing it. Common sources of the gas include wood and gas fireplaces, charcoal grills, vehicles, and gas-fired appliances.

Protect your home
Have a professional inspect your heating sources to make sure they are working correctly and have the proper ventilation. Never use a range or oven to heat your home. Don’t leave a vehicle’s engine running in the garage — even if the garage door is open. Carbon monoxide quickly can build up in this confined space.

Use a detector
Install at least one carbon monoxide detector in your home, and check it regularly to make sure the batteries are working. You should have detectors in the hallways outside sleeping areas.

Know the symptoms
Symptoms include headache, nausea, dizziness, shortness of breath, and exhaustion. If you think you may have carbon monoxide poisoning, leave your house, get fresh air, and call 911 immediately. Stay out of your house until the fire department determines it is safe to re-enter.

For more information about carbon monoxide safety, visit

Don’t let your Halloween party become a real haunted house

The most frightening part of Halloween might be the dangerous situations that can occur in preparation for the holiday. Whether it’s when carving jack-o’-lanterns, creating costumes, or having beverages, Halloween risks are all around. Here are some tips to stay safe:

Carve the pumpkin, not your hand
“Each Halloween, hand surgeons treat patients with cuts, or more severe injuries of the tendons, arteries, or nerves because of carving mishaps,” says the American Society for Surgery of the Hand.

Today, jack-o’-lantern kits are available in place of using a kitchen knife to slice your pumpkin. Injuries still are possible with any tool, so make sure you’re working in a clear, well-lit area and watching where you put your hands. Also, try using battery-operated candles to illuminate your pumpkin instead of open flames to avoid fire risk.

Dress up as a doctor, don’t visit one
Though you may win first place in the costume contest with an elaborate setup, make sure you’re not putting yourself in harm’s way. Loose and baggy material makes it easier to trip or get caught on objects, creating a falling hazard. Think about fire-retardant outfits and non-toxic makeup for your own safety.

Arrrr you sure you need more rum?
Halloween events typically draw large crowds and may welcome irresponsible adults. There’s no need to become Captain Morgan just because you’re in a pirate costume — if you’re consuming alcohol, be sure to drink in moderation and be smart. If you’re hosting the party, make sure your guests have a sober ride home. Halloween drunk driving statistics are scary:

    •   In 2010, 41 percent of all highway fatalities across the nation on Halloween night involved a
        driver or a motorcycle rider with a BAC of .08 or higher.

    •   An estimated 41 million children will be out trick-or-treating this year, and they’re not always visible
        while crossing streets or walking along roads.

    •   Most people know their state’s blood-alcohol driving limit. But do you know how many drinks it
        takes for you to get there? Refer to a BAC calculator like this one:

A different perspective on fire prevention, safety

In a fire, thick black smoke can turn your residence into a labyrinth of obstacles preventing escape. As a test, close your eyes and, with some help from a seeing person, attempt to exit your home from several locations. Not an easy task, as familiar surroundings become anything but in total darkness. A changed perspective makes all the difference.

Using the exercise above is a good means to educate family members about the importance of having and practicing an escape route in the event of a house fire.

A change in perspective also can help in preventing a fire. Walk through your house with a fresh set of eyes focused solely on identifying possible fire hazards. Hazards you might want to be on the lookout for include:

•  Kitchen - Are towels and other flammable items placed too close to the stove or toaster oven? Do you unplug small appliances such as the coffeemaker and toaster when not in use?

•  Bathroom - Make sure all hair styling tools (irons, dryers, etc.) are unplugged when not in use.

•  Bedroom - An electric blanket should not be tucked in at the sides or covered with a quilt as it could overheat.

•  Family room - In today’s home, family rooms have more electronics plugged in than ever before. Make sure to not overload circuits by plugging too many items in one outlet. Likewise, recessed lighting holds in heat, so it’s imperative to use the correct Wattage bulb (if you don’t know, use 60 or less Watts).

•  Basement/utility room - Store combustibles away from the furnace, boiler, or water heater.

It’s amazing how different things can look with a fresh perspective. So take time this month to survey your home for hazards and correct them. Don’t forget to review your evacuation plan as well. For more fire prevention tips, visit the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website here.

From the claims department FAQ files — what critter damage is covered?

Cooler temperatures mean those critters that have been wandering around the neighborhood are starting to think taking up residence in your house for the winter might be a good idea. Problem is, these freeloaders aren’t paying rent, and they can really do a number on their “living space” in your home.

Homeowners should take a look at their policies to make sure they are covered in the event the above scenario plays out.

Understanding coverage starts with realizing many insurers differentiate critters from vermin/rodents, insects, and birds. For instance, a raccoon is not within the definition of vermin or rodent. So in many policies, damage done by raccoons would be covered. But damage from a squirrel, a member of the rodent family, wouldn’t be covered.

If the responsible culprit isn’t present in the dwelling any longer, a claim representative may contact a pest control professional to help determine what type of creature caused the damage. However, periodically, that fact can’t be ascertained. In those cases, the benefit of the doubt likely will be given to the policyholder and the claim paid.

You can head off such claims or expenses by taking precautions now to lock out unwanted guests. For an article about how to keep your home free of pests this fall and throughout the year, click here.

Breast Cancer Awareness Month brings opportunity to join the fight

Breast cancer mortality and incidence rates have been declining, but this disease still brings devastating loss — on average, a woman in the U.S. will be diagnosed with breast cancer every 2.3 minutes. During October, which is Breast Cancer Awareness Month, we’re highlighting the importance of getting involved in the battle against breast cancer.

Whether that means participating in a fundraiser, performing a self exam, or supporting a loved one, it’s up to each of us to spread awareness and promote early detection to help those rates continue to decline.

That’s why SECURA joined the fight. We’re in the midst of our fourth annual One by One campaign to raise funds for breast cancer research. From Aug. 1 to Oct. 31, 2012, we’re donating $10 to the Breast Cancer Research Foundation (BCRF) for every new SECURA MILE-STONE® home and auto policy we issue.

There are countless ways for anyone to get involved this month and year round. Here are just a few of the options:

Run, walk, or bike for a cure. Maintaining a healthy weight and exercising can help lower your risk of breast cancer. Double your impact by exercising as part of a fundraising event. Find an event near you or get ideas for hosting your own event.

Set up your appointment. According to the BCRF, yearly mammograms are recommended beginning at age 40. Whether it’s Walk-In Wednesday or Mammogram Monday, many medical centers offer walk-in appointments to make it easier for women to get their annual mammograms. Check with your local hospital or clinic to see when they offer screenings. Women also are encouraged to perform self-exams.

Share your story. Tell others how breast cancer has impacted your life or the life of a loved one to promote greater awareness. Share your story here.

Or, leave a comment to tell us about other ways to join the fight against breast cancer.