Posted by: RJ the Fire Dog Blogger | March 24, 2015

How to #BeSafe during Tax Season

taxes 7Since the majority of consumers take advantage of e-filing, tax preparation fraud is at an all-time high. Although your personal information is at risk if you use the Internet at all (because it is basically floating around in Cyberspace), your risk increases exponentially if you fail to practice due diligence when selecting an accounting firm. Beware that nearly anyone can hang a shingle or put up a quick website, offering to inexpensively do your taxes and maximize your refund. I’m glad dogs don’t have to file taxes. Sounds like a big headache!

IRS Commissioner John Koskinen warns taxpayers, “Filing a tax return can be one of the biggest financial transactions of the year, so taxpayers should choose their tax return preparers carefully. Most tax professionals provide top-notch service, but we see bad actors every year that steal from their clients or compromise returns in ways that can severely harm taxpayers.”

taxes 3Since about 60 percent of people file returns prepared by an official agent, reputable tax preparation firms are a vital part of the U.S. tax system. But it is important to note that taxpayers are legally responsible for what is on their tax return even if it is prepared by someone else. So make sure the preparer you hire is up to the task. In other words, you won’t be able to blame your tax preparer if your forms are messed up. So pay attention, people!

If you plan to hire someone to file for you, minimize your risk of fraud, by applying these 10 tips when choosing a tax preparer:

1. Make sure your preparer has an IRS Preparer Tax Identification Number (PTIN). Anyone with a valid 2015 PTIN is authorized to prepare federal tax returns. Ensure the preparer signs and includes their PTIN with your completed return.

2, Ask to see credentials. Although professional certification is not necessary, your preparer should be either an enrolled agent, certified public accountant, attorney, belong to a professional organization, or attend continuing education classes. A number of tax law changes, including the Affordable Care Act provisions, can be complex. So only a competent tax professional will be up-to-date in such matters. Tax law is complicated. So it makes sense to hire someone who knows what they are doing.

3, Check about service fees upfront. Avoid preparers who base theirs fee on a percentage of your refund. Also, steer clear of anyone who says they can get you a larger refund than others. If your taxes are prepared properly and honestly, your refund will be the same no matter who prepares it. Although I’m glad I don’t have to file taxes, I wish I could somehow qualify for a refund. Then I could get more doggie treats!

4, Designate refunds to be sent to you or deposited directly into your bank account. Don’t allow funds to be deposited into a preparer’s bank account. Or, if you prefer, send them straight to me.

Tax deadline5. Make sure your preparer offers IRS e-file and request your return be submitted to the IRS electronically. Doing so is the safest and most accurate way to file a return, whether you do it alone or pay someone to prepare and file for you.

6. Make sure the preparer will be available in case you have questions. You should be able to contact the tax preparer after you file your return – even after the April 15 due date. In other words, avoid fly-by-night places that pop up and close down right after the tax deadline.

7. Provide records and receipts. Qualified preparers will ask to see your records and receipts. They will also ask questions to determine your total income, deductions, tax credits and other items. Do not rely on a preparer who is willing to e-file your return using your last pay stub instead of your Form W-2, which is against IRS e-file rules.

8. Don’t sign an incomplete or blank return. This seems pretty basic. But you might be surprised.

9. Review your return before signing. Make sure you’re comfortable with the accuracy of the return before you sign it.

10. Report abusive tax preparers to the IRS. You can report abusive tax return preparers and suspected tax fraud to the IRS. Use Form 14157, Complaint: Tax Return Preparer, which is available at IRS.gov.

To find other tips about choosing a preparer, better understand the differences in credentials and qualifications, and learn how to submit a complaint regarding a tax return preparer, visit Irs.gov/ChooseATaxPro.

We hope that this blog post will help you take steps to be safe during tax time and all year long. A convenient and affordable way to make sure you are prepared for disasters and emergencies of virtually every kind is to subscribe to the RJWestmore Training System by Universal Fire/Life Safety Services, which has been designed to help improve and save lives. Visit RJWestmore.com to read about the many ways proper planning can make a difference in numerous aspects of your professional and personal life.

Posted by: RJ the Fire Dog Blogger | March 10, 2015

How to #BeHealthy through Good Nutrition

nutrition 2In our ongoing effort to encourage subscribers and friends to be safe and healthy, we want to call attention to an important way to #BeSafe – through healthy nutrition. What better time to cover the topic than in March, which is National Nutrition Month? With the campaign slogan, “Take a bite out of a healthy lifestyle,” National Nutrition Month is a nutrition education and information program spearheaded annually by the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. What a great slogan! I like taking a bite out of anything and everything!

According to NationalNutritionMonth.org, the campaign focuses on “encouraging people to make sound eating and physical activity habits, which include consuming fewer calories, making informed food choices and getting daily exercise in order to achieve and maintain a healthy weight, reduce the risk of chronic disease and promote overall health.” I think this advice applies to canines, too.

nutrition 5In recent years, health crises relative to lifestyles in the United States have reached epidemic proportions. Here are a handful of examples:

  • The Centers for Disease Control & Prevention (CDC) report the leading cause of death in the nation is heart disease. In fact, about 610,000 people die of heart disease in the United States every year–which is one in every four deaths. Most experts agree that the majority of heart problems stem from physical inactivity and poor nutrition. Did you know that heart disease can affect dogs, too?
  • More than one third of adult Americans are obese. Some economists estimate that obesity related costs account for more than 20 percent of total U.S. Healthcare expenditures and lead to dozens of serious, associated health problems. Obesity is also a growing health problem in dogs, according to the Dog Whisperer, Cesar Milan.
  • Cancer continues to exact a heavy toll on Americans, causing in excess of 600,000 deaths annually. Understandably, the disease ranks highly among health challenges that face the U.S. Although cancer is not entirely attributable to lifestyle choices, there is evidence to support the reduced risk of certain types of cancer with healthy lifestyle choices—such as not smoking, eating a healthy diet, exercising regularly and getting a good night’s sleep. I love sleeping and can do it for long stretches of the day and night, when given the chance.
  • Sometimes related to obesity, but certainly not exclusively attributable to it, diabetes is currently affects 25 million diagnosed Americans (and likely millions more, who have yet to be diagnosed). A group of diseases marked by high levels of blood glucose resulting from defects in insulin production, insulin action, or both, diabetes can lead to serious complications and premature death. Fortunately, people with diabetes can take steps to control the disease and lower the risk of complications through several means, including (but not limited) to lifestyle choices. Dogs who have diabetes can also take steps to correct the problem.

nutrition fitness firedogFew would argue that it makes sense to make healthy choices. But just what should those choices be? After all; there are virtually limitless opinions on the subject…many of which are contradictory. While some experts recommend whole grains and low fat dairy, others insist the answer lies in following a grain/dairy and legume-free Paleo or nearly the opposite — a meat-free and grain and legume-heavy Vegan diet. Personally, I like to follow the people who suggest a bacon-heavy diet. But, admittedly, that isn’t because it’s a healthy choice.

And while some fitness gurus suggest running as the ticket to stay fit, others say that running is tantamount to suicide and that, instead, a mere 20 minutes of modest cardio a day will do the trick. With all of the conflicting information, no wonder so many decide to chuck it all and stay home watching TV and ordering a pizza! But just that sort of reaction is the root of our national problem.

So what is the answer? While this is not the definitive list, the following five suggestions should help get you on the right track. Little changes over time will result in big results. So use the month of March to get healthy!

  1. Newton’s Law of Inertia still applies. Objects at rest stay at rest, while objects in motion stay in motion. So move your body.
  2. Move more. Once you have started to get your blood flowing on a regular basis, challenge yourself by introducing some basic exercise routines or lifting modest weights. If you are new to exercise, take advantage of introductory free trials at nearby gyms, which usually offer free fitness assessments. If your budget can’t handle gym fees, start by walking around your neighborhood, gradually increasing the duration and speed until you are taking 10,000 steps a day. Pedometers, which count steps, are inexpensive and readily available. If you need a walking buddy, may I suggest your pet? We are great at keeping our family accountable.
  3. Eat right. Trying to make your diet healthy overnight isn’t realistic or smart. Changing everything at once usually leads to cheating or giving up on your new eating plan. Make small steps, like adding a salad (full of different color vegetables) to your diet once a day or switching from butter to olive oil when cooking. As your small changes become a habit, you can continue to add more healthy choices to your diet.

    nutrition 3

  4. Drink plenty of water. Kaiser Permanente nephrologist Steven Guest, MD, explains why: “Fluid losses occur continuously, from skin evaporation, breathing, urine, and stool, and these losses must be replaced daily for good health.”

  5. Limit sugar and salt. While the debate rages about whether it is healthier to eat lots of animal protein or eliminate that source of food altogether, dietitians and nutritionists agree that sugar causes energy ups and downs and can add to health and weight problems and too much salt can cause high blood pressure and lead to other health problems.So consume sugar and salt in moderation.

We hope that this blog post will help you take steps to eat right and be active in order to stay healthy. A convenient and affordable way to make sure you are prepared for disasters and emergencies of virtually every kind is to subscribe to the RJWestmore Training System by Universal Fire/Life Safety Services, which has been designed to help improve and save lives. Visit RJWestmore.com to read about the many ways proper planning can make a difference in numerous aspects of your professional and personal life.

Posted by: RJ the Fire Dog Blogger | February 17, 2015

Facts about Food Poisoning

FOOD POISONINGAccording to the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention (CDC), consumers spend about half of their food budget on meals prepared outside of their homes. This statistic is significant, because 60 percent of foodborne outbreaks are reportedly caused by fare which is prepared in restaurants. Does this mean you should baton down the hatches and resolve never to eat out again? Not at all. After all; 40 percent of food that has the capacity to make you sick is sitting in your own pantry or refrigerator. So the best course of action is to make sure you take necessary precautions to remain food-safe, no matter where you choose to dine. I choose to dine wherever there is bacon or pork chops. But that’s just me.

Food Poisoning Corp 3What is Foodborne Illness?
An infection or irritation of the gastrointestinal (GI) tract, foodborne illnesses are caused by foods or beverages that contain harmful bacteria, parasites, viruses, or chemicals. Yuck! Common symptoms include vomiting, diarrhea, abdominal pain, fever, and chills. In more severe cases, patients may experience headaches, tingling or numbness of the skin, blurred vision, weakness, dizziness, and paralysis. Yuck.

I’m glad dogs have a strong constitution. We can get sick from contaminated food, if it contains Salmonella, which is one type of bacteria. We can also suffer from what is known as Garbage Intoxication – ingesting decomposing carrion, garbage, spoiled food, moldy nuts or grains or infected compost. I guess this is a reason I should refrain from rifling through the fire station trash!

Here are some additional facts about foodborne illnesses:

  • Each year, an estimated 48 million people in the United States experience a foodborne illness.
  • Most foodborne illnesses are acute, meaning they come on suddenly and are short-lived. They certainly aren’t “cute.” So I’m glad to clear that up!
  • Many people who contract foodborne illnesses wrongly assume they have the stomach flu.
  • Most victims recover on their own, without medical intervention.
  • For people whose immune systems are compromised – such as the sick, children or the elderly – foodborne illness might lead to more serious complications.
  • In the U.S., foodborne illnesses cause 128,000 hospitalizations and about 3,000 deaths each year.

Food Poisoning Firedog 1Five Steps for Food Safety When Dining Out

  1. Assess the scene. Look for certificates that show food-safety practices (e.g., most recent health inspection score and manager’s completion of food-safety training). Note whether the glasses, silverware, napkins and table cloths and restroom are clean. As a rule, restaurateurs who keep facilities clean also pay attention to the condition of their kitchens.
  2. Cook it well. Make sure your food has been thoroughly cooked. It is particularly important for foods like meat, poultry, and fish to be cooked thoroughly to kill harmful bacteria.
  3. Pick the right place. To be safe, eat sushi only in A-rated kitchens, which purchase sushi-grade fish. If you feel uneasy at a restaurant, don’t second-guess the instinct. Better to be safe than sorry.
  4. Ask before ordering. Beware of potential hazards in raw foods and undercooked eggs, chicken, pork or fish. Ask for meats to be well-done. Check to make sure sauces have been commercially pasteurized.
  5. Refrigerate leftovers—post haste. Unless you are heading right home, leave leftovers behind. As a rule, food should be stowed in cold storage within two hours of being served or, one hour if temperatures are above 90°F. So, storing leftovers in the car while you see a movie is a bad idea. Better idea? Give it to the dog, when you get home, just to be safe. The takeout containers they provide at restaurants are called “Doggie Bags” for a reason!

Five Steps for Food Safety When Dining In
1. Follow proper food preparation rules. When it comes to food prep, proper hygiene is critical. Wash your hands before handling food. And, as you work, pay close attention to which surfaces and utensils come in contact with raw meat and juices. Scrub everything in hot soapy water.

2. Keep hot food hot. Once food is cooked, it should be held at an internal temperature of 140°F or above. Storing food on top of the stove to keep it warm (between 40°F and 140°F) is not safe. Use a food thermometer to monitor the internal temperature of the food and, when in doubt, throw it out!

3. Keep cold food cold. Follow the above rules for cold foods, as well. But make sure internal temperature is kept at or below 40°F.

4. Follow the two-hour rule. Throw away perishable foods such as meat, poultry, eggs, and casseroles and side dishes containing eggs or mayonnaise, if they have been left at room temperature longer than two hours (or one hour if temperatures are above 90°F).

5. Eat leftovers sooner rather than later. If you prepare more food than your family consumes at any given time, put leftovers in the fridge or freezer—and eat them within three to four days.

How to treat foodborne illness
The most common treatment for mild cases of foodborne illness is to replace lost fluids and electrolytes to prevent dehydration. If you suspect you have contracted foodborne illness, drink plenty of liquids such as fruit juices, sports drinks, caffeine-free soft drinks, and broths. Older adults and adults with weak immune systems should also drink oral rehydration solutions to prevent dehydration. I drink plenty of water for maximum hydration.

Over-the-counter medications may also be helpful, as they can be used to halt diarrhea in adults. However, these could pose a danger to infants and children, so contact your healthcare provider for information about treating children. As you begin to recover, gradually reintroduce a bland, “BRAT” diet (bananas, rice, applesauce and toast). Also recommended for recovery are easy-to-digest foods such as potatoes, bread, cereal and lean meat. During recovery, also avoid foods that are high in fat and sugar, or which contain dairy products, caffeine, and alcohol.

We hope that this blog post will help you take steps to stay healthy and avoid contracting foodborne illness. A convenient and affordable way to make sure you are prepared for disasters and emergencies of virtually every kind is to subscribe to the RJWestmore Training System by Universal Fire/Life Safety Services, which has been designed to help improve and save lives. Visit RJWestmore.com to read about the many ways proper planning can make a difference in numerous aspects of your professional and personal life.

Posted by: RJ the Fire Dog Blogger | February 3, 2015

Have you considered taking CERT Training?

CERT 6Following major disasters, it is entirely possible that first responders, who are first on scene to provide fire and medical services, will not be able to immediately meet the demand for services. Factors contributing to a potential backup of emergency workers and the public’s inability to successfully reach 911 could include: the number of victims, communication failures, and road blockages. A reason dogs might not be able to reach 911 operators is because we don’t have opposable thumbs. For all these reasons, it is likely that in virtually any major emergency, people will need to rely on each other to meet immediate life-saving and life-sustaining needs.

In emergencies of all kinds, family members, friends, fellow employees, neighbors, and tenants spontaneously help each other. Dogs are also quite eager to be of assistance, whether or not we’ve been formally trained. Thankfully, history has shown that people and pets usually rise to the occasion when major disasters strike. Such was the case recently, in the Mexico City earthquake, where untrained volunteers heroically stepped up to save 800 people. As the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) notes, unfortunately, 100 of those people lost their lives in so doing. The good news is that many accidental deaths and injuries are preventable, through proper emergency training.

Cert 4For the above reasons, in 1985, the L.A. County City Fire Department developed and implemented a formal program for emergency citizen training they called the Community Emergency Response Team (CERT). I guess this is different than the breath mint with a similar name…Certs? The Whittier Narrows earthquake in 1987 underscored the area-wide potential for a major disaster in California. It further confirmed the need to train civilians to meet immediate emergency-associated needs.certs-spearmints

Later adopted by public agencies across the country, CERT training benefit those citizens who take it, as it prepares them to respond to and cope with the aftermath of disasters. Since 1993, CERT training has been made available nationally by FEMA, and is now offered in communities in 28 states and Puerto Rico. Many communities tap graduates of the program to form teams of individuals who can be recruited and further trained as volunteer auxiliary responders. I love being part of a team…especially one that’s designed to help save lives!

CERT members receive 17 ½ hours (one day a week for seven weeks) of initial training. The seven-week course is followed by full-day biannual refresher drills, and an opportunity to assist the LAFD at local incidents. In Los Angeles, CERT is provided free of charge to anyone 18 or over. Sounds like a great deal!

CERT Training is divided into the following seven sessions:

  • Session 1: Disaster Preparedness
  • Session 2: Disaster Fire Suppression
  • Session 3: Disaster Medical Operations Part 1
  • Session 4: Disaster Medical Operations Part 2
  • Session 5: Light Search & Rescue Operations
  • Session 6: Disaster Psychology and Team Organization
  • Session 7: Course Review and Disaster Simulation

Cert 2After completing the program, CERT graduates will be able to safely:

  • Search for and rescue victims.
  • Provide basic medical aid, by treating the three main threats to life: opening airways, controlling bleeding, and treating for shock.
  • Manage utilities and put out small fires.
  • Organize themselves and spontaneous volunteers to be effective.
  • Collect disaster intelligence to support first responder efforts.
  • Assist professional responders with prioritization and allocation of resources following a disaster.
  • Find lots of bacon. Okay—I’ll admit they don’t train for this in a CERT program. But I suggest they start offering it as part of the curriculum.

To find a team and/or begin CERT training in your area:

  1. Complete a CERT program, take advantage of an interactive web-based class or search the FEMA website by zip code for classes taught on location.
  2. Complete a CERT Train-the-Trainer (TTT) course conducted by a State Training Office for Emergency Management or the Emergency Management Institute, in order to learn the training techniques used by the LAFD.
  3. Identify the program goals that CERT would meet and the resources necessary to conduct the program in your area.
  4. Seek approval from appointed and elected officials to use CERT as a means to prepare citizens to care for themselves during a disaster, when services may not be adequate.
  5. Identify and recruit potential participants. Naturals for CERT are community groups, business and industry workers and local government workers.
  6. Train CERT instructors.
  7. Conduct CERT sessions.
  8. Conduct refresher training and exercises with CERTs.

In recognition for training completion, CERT members should receive ID cards, vests and helmets. Graduates should also regularly practice their skills. To this end, trainers should offer periodic refresher sessions to reinforce basic training. CERT teams can also sponsor events such as drills, picnics, neighborhood clean-ups, and disaster education fairs.

We hope that this blog post will help you take steps to prepare yourself for potential disasters, and that you might consider starting or joining a CERT in your area. To find a team or pursue CERT training, enter your zip code in the Citizen Corps section of the FEMA website. Another convenient and affordable way to make sure you are prepared for emergencies is to subscribe to the RJWestmore Training System by Universal Fire/Life Safety Services, which has been designed to help improve and save lives. Visit RJWestmore.com to read about the many ways proper planning can make a difference in numerous aspects of your professional and personal life.

Posted by: RJ the Fire Dog Blogger | January 20, 2015

Measles Watch 2015

Measles Firedog 3A measles outbreak, which reportedly began at Disneyland, in Anaheim, California between December 16 and 20, 2014, has spread to individuals in several other states and Mexico, according to health officials. That’s a pretty hefty price to pay for visiting “the happiest place on earth!” The largest patient-cluster is currently located in California, with 45 confirmed cases, and at least six other infections identified in other parts of the United States and Mexico. Health officials have contacted people who may have come in contact with the virus, asking them to voluntarily stay in quarantine in their respective homes until the threat of potential infection has passed. Staying home if you may have been exposed to the measles makes a lot of sense to me. All of the confirmed cases, to date, were contracted by individuals who were never vaccinated for the virus. Although dogs can’t catch the measles, we can contract a related ailment, known as distemper. So make sure your canines are vaccinated.

Measles Firedog 1People who have the serious yet preventable ailment will experience symptoms including fever, dry cough, runny nose, watery eyes and a pervasive red rash. Spread through the air, usually via coughing, sneezing and/or other close contact, the measles could potentially rise to epidemic proportions because the illness is contagious for up to four days before the rash ever appears. So carriers can spread the virus without even being aware that they are infected. This is significant, as health officials note the outbreaks have begun to affect people beyond the original outbreak area.

CBS News reports, “Health officials report an increase in cases among people who did not visit the parks, indicating that the illness is now spreading to others exposed in their communities.” This is a serious concern, as it implies the illness will be far more difficult to contain than originally thought.

Measles Firedog 2To date, here are confirmed cases, according to the CDC:
• California: 45 confirmed cases
• Mexico: one case
• Utah: two cases
• Washington state: two cases
• Colorado: one case

At least partially to blame for the spread of the virus is the declination in parents agreeing to have their children vaccinated. Kindergarten measles vaccination rates have been falling almost every year since 2002 in California. A Los Angeles Times analysis published last fall reported that the rise in vaccine exemptions among kindergartners because of parents’ personal beliefs was most prominent in wealthy coastal and mountain communities, such as South Orange County and the Santa Monica and Malibu areas. I’ve never understood this phenomenon. My wife and I have JR vaccinated because we figure the benefits outweigh the risks.

Last year, in a report written for the Journal of the American Medical Association-Pediatrics, Dr. Mark Grabowsky, a health official with the United Nations, wrote: “The greatest threat to the U.S. vaccination program may now come from parents’ hesitancy to vaccinate their children. Although this so-called vaccine hesitancy has not become as widespread in the United States as it appears to have become in Europe, it is increasing. Many measles outbreaks can be traced to people refusing to be vaccinated; a recent large measles outbreak was attributable to a church advocating the refusal of measles vaccination.”

Measles Firedog 4While some hesitancy may be understandable, given alarming information available relative to potential, albeit very rare side effects of preserved booster shots, the risks must carefully be weighed against the benefits. Measles can lead to blindness and encephalitis, an infection of the brain. Also called rubeola, measles can be serious and even fatal for small children. While death rates have been falling worldwide as more children receive the measles vaccine, the disease still kills more than 100,000 people a year, most under the age of five. With their parents’ permission, children are typically immunized with a first dose of vaccine at 12 to 16 months and a second at 4- to 6-years-old.

We hope that this blog post will help you take steps to stay healthy. One convenient and affordable way to do so is to subscribe to the RJWestmore Training System by Universal Fire/Life Safety Services, which has been designed to help improve and save lives. Visit RJWestmore.com to read about the many ways proper planning can make a difference in numerous aspects of your professional and personal life.

Posted by: RJ the Fire Dog Blogger | January 14, 2015

#BeSafe from the Flu

flu 2015 Firedog 2According to reports from the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention (CDC), this year’s strain of Influenza (flu) has already hit epidemic proportions across the United States, with at least 15 associated deaths of children so far this season (most in Texas, Minnesota, Ohio, Florida and California.) The most common strain thus far, is known as Influenza A (H3N2). Sounds pretty scary. But I guess any illness with an official name and number is creepy.

A contagious respiratory illness, the flu can cause mild to severe illness, which can result in hospitalization or even death. Most at risk are the elderly, young children and other people with weaker-than-average immune systems. Most health professionals contend the best defense against catching the flu is to get vaccinated each year. Apparently, dogs can catch the flu, too. But we are susceptible to different strains than our human counterparts.

Carefully monitoring flu activity across the country, the CDC reports: “As of late December, all national key flu indicators are elevated and about half of the country is experiencing high flu activity. Flu activity is expected to continue into the coming weeks, with increases occurring especially in those states that have not yet had significant activity.

The United States experiences epidemics of seasonal flu each year, and right now all of CDC’s influenza surveillance systems are showing elevated activity. Influenza-like-illness (ILI) has been over baseline for the past several weeks, virological surveillance shows a lot of flu is circulating, and the hospitalization surveillance system shows increasing hospitalizations rates, especially in people 65 years and older. Also, the surveillance system that tracks mortality shows that the country is in the midst of this season’s flu epidemic. During influenza seasons, ILI increases first, and then hospitalizations increase, and then increases in deaths occur, so what is being observed is a typical pattern for the flu season.”

Flu 2015 FiredogAlthough this year’s flu season started a few weeks earlier than usual, pharmacists across the country don’t expect the virus to peak until early to mid-February, which means there is still time to get vaccinated, as the shot generally takes two weeks to reach full effectiveness. I don’t understand why some people are afraid of needles. Even my young son, JR, gets boosters without a whimper. As you weigh the pros and cons of vaccination, it might help you to consider the differences between symptoms of a common cold and the flu:

Common Cold

  • Often begins with a sore throat, which usually lasts for just one or two days
  • Nasal symptoms, runny nose, sneezing and congestion follow
  • A cough manifests by day four or five, typically due to sinus drainage and associated nasal congestion
  • Fever is uncommon in adults but slightly more common in children
  • Symptoms generally last for up to one week

Flu 2015 Firedog 3Influenza (Flu)

  • Persistent sore throat
  • Fever (100-102 degrees, which is typically higher than for a cold)
  • Severe headache
  • Severe muscle aches
  • Fatigue, weakness
  • Extreme exhaustion
  • Congestion
  • Cough
  • Chest discomfort
  • The Swine flu is also associated with vomiting and diarrhea.

Although many symptoms overlap, people who catch colds are more likely to suffer far less and rebound much more quickly than those who succumb to the flu. Also of note, while people who vomit often think they have the flu, stomach pain and diarrhea are far more likely to be the result of food-borne illness (food poisoning) than attributable to a case of the flu. I think this is interesting, because people are always saying they have the flu when they are probably suffering from bad Chinese food.

Five Ways to Avoid Catching the Flu

  1. Wash your hands – Even if you are exposed to the flu (by touching a germ-infested counter top at a doctor’s office, for example) if you clean your hands before you touch your face, there’s little chance the germs can reach your eyes, nose, or mouth, all of which are the usual ways they enter your system and start wreaking havoc.
  2. Try not to touch your faceLiveScience.com reports that the average person touches his or her face some 3.6 times per hour. Since cold and flu germs pass from infected surfaces to orifices such as the nose and mouth, the best way to guard yourself is to keep your hands in your lap. Also, try to avoid habits like biting your nails.
  3. Keep surfaces clean – From your home to your cubby a work, the importance of cleanliness cannot be overstated. Take time to disinfect your keyboard, telephone and desk. In fact, set up a reminder to thoroughly wipe down surfaces each time you eat. You might also want to use disinfectant spray or wipes. She always said it’s good to keep things clean. I guess Mother knows best.
  4. Moisturize Your AirWomen’s Health Magazine reports that very humid air might be toxic to flu viruses. Although scientists aren’t quite sure why, one possibility is that droplets that contain the virus shrink quickly in arid environments, allowing them to float around longer. In moist air those same droplets might remain heavy and fall to the floor faster.
  5. Stay home – Although we aren’t recommending you become a hermit, you will lessen your chances of getting sick if you stay away from large crowds. Also, if you are sick, stay home from work so you won’t infect your co-workers. If you’re sick, you probably won’t be at your best, anyway. So take care of yourself and go back to work when you are back in top form. Makes sense to me.

We hope that this blog post will help you take steps to stay healthy in 2015 and beyond. The RJWestmore Training System by Universal Fire/Life Safety Services has been designed to help improve and save lives. Visit RJWestmore.com to read about the many ways proper planning can make a difference in numerous aspects of your professional and personal life.

Posted by: RJ the Fire Dog Blogger | December 30, 2014

How to #BeSafe in 2015 

new-years-resolutions firedogNew Year’s Resolutions. Most people write a few down, even if they have no intention of ever following through. That could be the reason dogs don’t participate in the practice. Well, it could also be because we don’t have opposable thumbs. But, whatever the reason, according to USA.Gov, the 10 most popular resolutions (for people) are to:

  • Lose weight
  • Volunteer to help others
  • Quit smoking
  • Get a better education
  • Get a better job
  • Save money
  • Get fit
  • Eat healthier
  • Manage stress
  • Manage debt

BeeSafeAs good as those aspirations are, we propose they fail to incorporate one of the most important goals anyone could make—to #BeSafe! So, as our gift to you for 2015, we have prepared a list of our suggestions for 10 New Year’s Safety Resolutions:

  1. Create/update home and workplace emergency preparedness kits. The contents of your kit will vary depending on individual needs. Set aside a three-days-per-person supply of foodwater and other essentials. Local officials and relief workers will be on the scene after a disaster but they cannot reach everyone immediately. Help could arrive in hours or it could take days for relief workers to get to you. So take responsibility for yourself. This is good advice even outside the arena of safety.
  1. Develop and practice an emergency preparedness plan. The Ready Campaign and Citizen Corps encourages households, businesses and communities to prepare for emergencies by making plans to be self-reliant for three days without utilities and electricity, water service, access to a supermarket or local services. If you own or manage a facility, make sure tenants and employees are well-informed of emergency procedures. Develop a plan and run periodic drills. Practice makes perfect. I love running drills…or running anything, for that matter.
  1. Don’t play with fire. When fires break out, the potential for loss is high if occupants are untrained and proper fire life safety systems are not utilized. So take precautions to make sure you are fire safe, whether you are located in an area with a high risk of wildfire; visiting, living or working inside a high rise building; or just hanging out at home. We can’t really emphasize this enough. Fire is dangerous stuff. Be careful.
  1. Learn CPR. Sudden cardiac arrest, the leading cause of death in adults, accounts for 325,000 annual adult deaths in the United States. Prompt, effective administration of CPR/AED and first aid can mean the difference between life and death. Did you know you can’t call the Heimlich maneuver the Heimlich maneuver anymore? I guess Heimlich’s family got mad they weren’t making any money off of the deal. So now it’s called the Abdominal Thrust. Not quite as catchy.
  1. Take advantage of available vaccines. Because people are starting to second-guess the wisdom of vaccinating their children, once eradicated diseases such as polio and TB are reemerging. Do your due diligence, researching booster shots your pediatrician suggests. But refusing every vaccination could put the rest of the population at risk. I don’t know why people refuse to get shots. We give JR boosters all of the time and he doesn’t even cry.
  1. Learn how to determine whether any given disaster would be best handled by evacuation or sheltering in place. Since every natural or manmade disaster is unique, you won’t be able to predict the best course of action. But, you can educate yourself about the various types of emergencies and how to respond most appropriately in any given situation. Safe Room
  1. Wash your hands often. Use soap and water or hand sanitizer to prevent spreading germs. During flu season, this is especially important! The CDC likens hand washing to a “do-it-yourself” vaccine. Effective hand washing involves five simple and effective steps, including wet, lather, scrub, rinse and dry. Regular hand washing, particularly before and after certain activities, is the best way to remove germs, avoid getting sick, and prevent the spread of germs to others. I try to keep my paws as clean as possible.
  1. Be mindful of safety risks associated with natural disasters. Extreme heat, mudslides, flash floods, tornadoes, hurricanes and earthquakes pose significant and very specific safety-related issues. So the best way to prepare is to research the risks that pertain to your geographic location.
  1. Eat better and move more. Why are these suggestions on a list of safety tips? Because many health-related issues are brought on by lack of exercise and poor diet. So, eat right and keep moving to beef up your immune system. Doing so will help you avoid contagious bugs such as Influenza, and prevent you from developing serious health conditions like Diabetes. I can always get behind anything that has to do with eating or exercise.
  1. Be careful when you travel. This is important for several reasons:
  • Remain alert at the airport to help circumvent terrorist activity. When you fly, pay attention to suspicious activity and refuse to watch bags for anyone you don’t know.
  • Research the potential health risks associated with your destination (West Africa, relative to Ebola), and take proper precautions.
  • Don’t drink and drive!
  • Do not text while driving. Did you know that people who text while driving are 23 times more likely to get into an accident than those who resist the urge to pick up their cellphones while driving? More than 1.6 million automobile accidents that occurred last year in the U.S. were related to texting while driving (National Safety Council). Put the phone down or pull over to use it. It can wait.

We hope that this blog post will help you make safe choices in 2015 and beyond. One convenient and affordable way to do so is to subscribe to the RJWestmore Training System by Universal Fire/Life Safety Services, which has been designed to help improve and save lives. Visit RJWestmore.com to read about the many ways proper planning can make a difference in numerous aspects of your professional and personal life.

Posted by: RJ the Fire Dog Blogger | December 19, 2014

How to #BeSafe this Holiday Season

Part 3 of a 3-part series

Firedog Holiday TravelTo date, our series has covered safety relative to choosing, displaying and decorating Christmas trees, working with wrapping paper, and guidelines for being safe at work and home. I don’t know about you, but I’ve learned a lot about how to #BeSafe during the holidays! This week, we will conclude our three-part series by focusing on travel, shopping and food safety. Our thanks to Universal Services of America, Food Safety.Gov, Web MD, TSA and the Consumer Product Safety Commission, for contributing to our holiday safety series.

Holiday Travel Safety

  • Drive slowly when visibility is reduced. It’s better to arrive alive even if you get to your destination a bit late.
  • If you’re flying, prepare for crowds. Arrive at the airport in plenty of time, so you won’t be bothered by long lines. I wonder if Snoopy has to deal with this when he’s battling the Red Baron.
  • If you notice an item that has been left unattended, alert airport security. Don’t ever agree to watch luggage for someone you don’t know.
  • For instant access to TSA information anywhere, anytime, use the MyTSA app.

Firedog Holiday Shopping SafetyHoliday Shopping Safety

  • If you choose to shop online, do so only with well-known businesses. Research websites for legitimacy and track record. Since I don’t have opposable thumbs, online shopping is difficult for me. I guess that’s a good thing.
  • Conduct transactions on a secure server only. Look for the padlock device on the browser’s status bar. URLs should change from http to shttp or https when you begin checking out online. To confirm the site you are using is secure, make sure the page is encrypted before you enter payment information.
  • At the mall, park close to your destination, in a well-lit area. Take note of where you park, so you won’t get lost.
  • Don’t carry multiple bags as you walk around the mall. This could attract thieves who could follow you back to your car. If your packages become cumbersome, it’s time to head to the car to drop them off. When you get to your vehicle, lock packages in the trunk, out of sight.
  • As you shop, carry your purse close to your body and/or stow your wallet inside a zippered pocket. I don’t carry a purse. But my wife does. I guess I should pass this info onto her.
  • Report suspicious activity and/or unattended packages to store/mall security or law enforcement.
  • Pay by credit card, rather than check/debit card, to reduce the risk of having fraudulent purchases made against your bank account. Although most such funds are refundable, depending on your financial institution, your money could be tied up far longer than might be convenient…especially during the holidays.
  • To make sure all debit and credit card charges are legitimate, keep receipts and compare them to your monthly bank and/or credit card statement.
  • Avoid being overcharged. Review your receipt regardless of your method of payment.
  • Keep car keys handy.
  • Lock your doors as soon as you get inside the vehicle. 

Firedog Holiday Safety FoodHoliday Food Safety

  • Wash hands with warm water and soap for 20 seconds before and after handling any food.
  • Wash food-contact surfaces (cutting boards, dishes, utensils, countertops) with hot, soapy water after preparing each food item. As much as I would like to advise having the dog lick your plates clean, washing them in soapy water would admittedly be far more hygienic.
  • Rinse fruits and vegetables thoroughly under cool running water.
  • Use a produce brush to remove surface dirt.
  • Do not rinse raw meat and poultry before cooking in order to avoid spreading bacteria to areas around the sink and countertops.
  • Use a food thermometer to make sure meat, poultry, and fish are cooked to a safe internal temperature.
  • Bring sauces, soups, and gravies to a rolling boil when reheating.
  • Don’t eat uncooked cookie dough. It may contain raw eggs, which can harbor salmonella.
  • Thaw frozen food safely in the refrigerator, under cold running water, or in the microwave—never at room temperature.
  • As a general rule of thumb, leftovers should be used within three to four days, unless frozen. After four days, you could always give leftover meat to the family pet. Just a suggestion. J
  • For fire safety, keep flammable materials far from open flames. Fire safety is important. So try to remain focused even in the midst of holiday stress.

We hope that this blog series has helped inform you about ways to #BESAFE this holiday season and always, by taking necessary steps to improve your health and safety. The RJWestmore Training System by Universal Fire/Life Safety Services is a convenient and affordable solution to helping improve and save lives. Visit our website for ways proper planning can make a difference in numerous aspects of your professional and personal life.

Posted by: RJ the Fire Dog Blogger | December 9, 2014

Holiday Safety and Security Tips Part 2 of a 3-Part Series

holiday safety firedogHoliday Safety Part 2 of a 3-Part Series (Featuring Guest Blogger Angela Burrell of Universal Services of America. To see her original post, click here.) As a courtesy to our guest, I have dispensed with my usual “firedogisms” in this post, but will resume my canine commentary in next week’s blog. 

According to the Consumer Product Safety Commission, home holiday decorations cause more than 400 holiday fires each year, resulting in $15 million in property loss and damage. Nothing is as sad as a news story about a child dying in a Christmas tree fire or a father falling off of a ladder while decorating the exterior of his home. As our holiday gift to you, we would like to offer some tips to keep you and your loved ones safe this holiday season.

firedog safety holidayLast week, we examined safe practices for choosing, displaying and decorating Christmas trees as well as working with holiday paper. For part two of our series, we are happy to welcome guest blogger Angela Burrell, who is the public relations manager for our strategic partner, Universal Services of America. Her blog post covers holiday workplace safety home safety guidelines, and basic safety rules. Next week, we will conclude our three-week series by focusing on holiday travel, shopping and cooking.

Universal Services of America reminds you to keep the following safety and security tips in mind as you celebrate the holiday season. Regift them to family, friends, colleagues, co-workers and building occupants to let them know you care. Happy holidays!

Seven Workplace Alerts

  • Report all solicitors or suspicious persons to security immediately.
  • Be suspicious of unfamiliar people claiming to be repair persons, as thieves are apt to disguise themselves.
  • Make sure your receptionist clears any workers or contractors before allowing them into your office.
  • Question visitors who wander throughout your offices. Legitimate guests will appreciate your offers of assistance, while potential solicitors or thieves will be deterred.
  • Lock all personal items in a desk or file cabinet. Employees should never leave purses or wallets exposed where they can easily be stolen.
  • Close doors when the office is empty, and secure all valuables in a desk or closet when unattended.
  • Request a security or buddy escort to your car if you are working late and feel vulnerable.

Seven Basic Fire Rules

  • Fires peak, particularly in kitchens, during the holidays – so remain alert when preparing meals and keep potholders and food wrappers at least three feet away from heat sources.
  • Monitor candles and fireplace fires, and extinguish them before leaving the house or bedtime.
  • Test your smoke alarms and carbon monoxide detectors, ensuring that they work at optimal level year-round. Replace batteries, as needed.
  • Know where your exits are located and hold regular fire drills that include practicing at least two evacuation routes from every area or building.
  • Notify the property manager about exit lights that are broken or vandalized.
  • Never prop open self-closing doors, as they are designed to keep flames and smoke from spreading.
  • Keep exits and stairways free from obstructions at all times. Don’t store things on or under stairways, or on landings.

Six Home Safety Guides

  • Refresh your holiday lights; consider buying energy-efficient LED types that are cooler than conventional incandescent lights.
  • Limit the number of lights strung together and use appropriate ones for outdoors or indoors.
  • Turn off lights or decorations before bedtime, or set automatic timers for six or eight-hour increments to conserve energy.
  • Consider installing motion or lighting sensors that turn off automatically when no one is around.
  • Ask a neighbor to collect mail or have the post office hold it if you plan to travel for an extended period.
  • Let strangers who knock know you are home without opening your door. Do not feel compelled to donate to solicitors.

Five More Tips and Resources

Next week, check back, as we will finish our series about holiday safety. We hope that this blog post will help inform you about ways to #BESAFE this holiday season, and always, by taking necessary steps to improve your health and safety. The RJWestmore Training System by Universal Fire/Life Safety Services is a convenient and affordable solution to helping improve and save lives. Visit our website for ways proper planning can make a difference in numerous aspects of your professional and personal life.

Posted by: RJ the Fire Dog Blogger | December 3, 2014

How to #BeSafe this Holiday Season

Part 1 of a 3-part series

Holiday Safety 2014cAccording to the Consumer Product Safety Commission, home holiday decorations cause more than 400 holiday fires each year, resulting in $15 million in property loss and damage. Nothing is as sad as a news story about a child dying in a Christmas tree fire or a father falling off of a ladder while decorating the exterior of his home. As our holiday gift to you, we would like to offer some tips to keep you and your loved ones safe this holiday season.

This week, we will look at safe practices for choosing, displaying and decorating Christmas trees as well as working with holiday paper. Next week, we will feature a guest blogger, whose entry will cover holiday workplace safety, basic safety rules and home safety guidelines. Finally, we will conclude our three-week series by focusing on holiday travel, shopping and cooking.

Holiday Safety for 2014

Christmas Trees

Choosing your tree

  • Many artificial trees are fire resistant. If you choose to go with a fake tree, choose one that is rated as such.
  • If you decide to go with a live tree, freshness is key. A newly cut tree will stay green longer and be less of a fire hazard than a dry tree…not to mention it will look nicer than one that is dead and brown.
  • To check for freshness, remember that a fresh tree is green, and fresh needles are hard to pull from branches. They also do not give when bent between your fingers.
  • When the trunk of a tree is bounced on the ground, a shower of falling needles shows that tree is too dry. Keep looking.
  • The trunk of a freshly harvested tree should be sticky with resin.
  • I advise keeping lots of water in your tree bucket. Dogs like to drink from it…though (for safety), we really shouldn’t.

holiday safety 2014eDisplaying your tree

  • Before deciding where to put your tree, think about more than whether it is located near a picture window. Instead, make sure you choose a place in your home that is clear of all sources of heat including fireplaces, radiators and lamps. You might also want to consider where it won’t tempt your pet, since we tend to consider Christmas trees indoor plumbing!
  • Heated rooms dry out trees rapidly, creating fire hazards. So make sure your home remains relatively cool. But use common sense. If you’re cold, the tree probably will be too. It is alive, after all…if you choose a live one instead of a plastic fake version.
  • When prepping the tree, cut off about two inches of the trunk to expose fresh wood for sufficient water absorption. Trim away branches as necessary to set your tree trunk in the base of a sturdy, water-holding stand with wide spread feet. Keep the stand filled with water while the tree is indoors. And this isn’t just so Fido has another cool water option. It’s actually to keep the tree alive as long as possible.
  • Place the tree out of the way of traffic and do not block doorways. If necessary, use thin guide-wires to secure a large tree to walls or ceiling. These wires are nearly invisible but will keep the tree safe even in the event of an earthquake or other natural disaster.

Decorating

  • Artificial snow sprays can irritate lungs if inhaled. If you like the look of a flocked tree, just make sure you avoid potential injury by reading container labels and carefully following directions. I’m not one for flocked trees. They block the fresh pine scent.
  • Interior Lighting. Use only lights that have been tested for safety. Identify these by the label from an independent testing laboratory.
  • Check each set of lights, new or old, for broken or cracked sockets, frayed or bare wires, or loose connections. Discard damaged sets or repair them before using. Lights are so cheap these days, you can afford to pitch them and start from scratch instead of looking for a single burnt out bulb to replace.
  • Fasten outdoor lights securely to trees, house, walls or other firm support to protect from wind damage.
  • Use no more than three standard-size sets of lights per single extension cord.
  • Turn off all lights on trees and other decorations when you go to bed or leave the house. If they are not properly displayed, lights could short and start a fire. It might be tempting to leave them on. But resist the urge. Safety first!
  • Use colored spotlights above or beside a tree instead of fastened onto it.
  • Keep “bubbling” lights away from children. The bright colors and bubbling movement could tempt curious children to break the light, leaking poisonous liquid and posing an electrical hazard. I’ve never seen bubbling lights. But they sounds scary.

Wrapping-related Safety

  • If you decide to make paper decorations, choose papers, glitter and adhesives that are not flammable. Or, better yet, encourage the kiddos to work with something other than paper if they plan to hang it from the tree.
  • Don’t place trimming near open flames or electrical connections.
  • Remove all wrapping papers from tree and fireplace areas immediately after presents are opened. This is particularly important during parties and Christmas morning, when distractions abound.
  • Do not ever burn papers in the fireplace. A flash fire may result as wrappings ignite suddenly and burn intensely

Next week, check back, as we will continue our three-week series about holiday safety. We hope that this blog post will help inform you about ways to #BESAFE this holiday season, and always, by taking necessary steps to improve your health and safety. The RJWestmore Training System by Universal Fire/Life Safety Services is a convenient and affordable solution to helping improve and save lives. Visit our website for ways proper planning can make a difference in numerous aspects of your professional and personal life.

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