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by Abigail Van Buren

Best Fire Prevention Is Planning for the Worst

DEAR READERS: It's National Fire Prevention Week again, and the message for 1992 is: "FIRE WON'T WAIT -- PLAN YOUR ESCAPE!"

Since 80 percent of all fire deaths occur in the home, knowing how to escape will dramatically increase your chances of survival.

Firefighters urge you to replace the batteries in your smoke detectors when you turn your clocks back from daylight-saving time -- Sunday, Oct. 27. However, the warning of the smoke detector is not enough. You must have a well-rehearsed plan of escape before a fire strikes.

Remember, smoke is thick, and you can't see through it. Also, toxic gases can be disorienting, so you should practice crawling close to the floor, feeling your way along walls until you reach the door to the exit.

Fire drills are essential to ensure safety, so all members of the family should participate. You should all plan two escape routes from each room and make sure that each exit is accessible. Also, check for windows that could be painted shut, furniture blocking doorways, dead-bolt locks too high for children to reach, etc., and remedy these obstacles before a fire breaks out.

If you must escape through smoke, remember to crawl close to the floor where the air is fresher. If your clothing catches fire, stop, drop to the floor and roll to extinguish flames!

If there are elderly, disabled or very young family members, special efforts to get them out must be planned. They should also be included in your fire drills.

Many lives have been saved because a farsighted homemaker had a sturdy rope attached to an upstairs window, enabling those who were trapped upstairs to slide down the rope to safety.

And remember, once you are out -- stay out. Never go back into a burning house in an effort to "save" anything.

Fire drills are important not only for homes, but for schools and places of employment.

Although this year's motto is "Plan Your Escape," I would hope that everyone who reads this has at least two fire extinguishers that are in working order; one for the front of the house or apartment, and one for the back.