Join the debate. Vote Now on the Dear Abby Poll of the week.

by Abigail Van Buren

DEAR ABBY: I'll bet the majority of your readers think they'd be able to find their way out of their home quickly and safely if a fire broke out late at night. The sad truth is, only a small percentage of the population is actually prepared to do so. If there were a real fire, that lack of preparation could cost them their lives.

Let me share some frightening numbers with you. The nonprofit National Fire Protection Association asked a similar question in a survey, and our worst fears were confirmed. Although most people feel relatively safe from fire, only 16 percent of those who responded had planned and actually practiced how they'd escape if they had a fire in their home. That means nearly 85 percent of the population will be woefully ill-prepared if fire strikes.

And ill-prepared they are: The fact is, eight out of 10 fire deaths in the United States take place in the home. For that reason, it's critical that all of us practice how we'd escape in the event of a home fire; and then practice an ALTERNATIVE escape route in case the first one is blocked. The only sure way to know is to PHYSICALLY practice escaping before there's a fire. In other words: Hold a home fire drill.

Abby, your readers will have an opportunity during this coming Fire Prevention Week, Oct. 4-10, to join others in their communities in planning and practicing their own home fire drills at 6 p.m. on Wednesday, Oct. 7, during the North America-wide Great Escape Fire Drill. As the official sponsor of Fire Prevention Week for more than 70 years, NFPA has teamed up with fire departments all across the United States and Canada that will sound their alarms to signal the start of this first unified community fire drill. Individual families can then begin their fire drill at home. Information about each community's participation will be publicized locally.

Fire drills are the “Great Escape." I hope none of your readers will have to experience escaping a real fire. But it's something they all need to know they can do, and the Great Escape fire drill is a safe way to find out. -- GEORGE D. MILLER, PRESIDENT, NATIONAL FIRE PROTECTION ASSOCIATION

DEAR GEORGE: Thank you for this important reminder. And readers, don't forget to change the batteries in your smoke detectors. They are your first line of defense against home fires, but only if they're in working order.

PONDER THIS: “Be grateful for each new day. A new day that you have never lived before. Twenty-four new, fresh, unexplored hours to use usefully and profitably. We can squander, neglect or use it. Life will be richer or poorer by the way we use today.

“Finish every day and be done with it. You have done what you could; some blunders and absurdities crept in; forget them as soon as you can. Tomorrow is a new day. You shall begin it well and serenely and with too high a spirit to be encumbered with your old nonsense.” (Ralph Waldo Emerson)

What teens need to know about sex, drugs, AIDS, and getting along with peers and parents is in "What Every Teen Should Know." To order, send a business-sized, self-addressed envelope, plus check or money order for $3.95 ($4.50 in Canada) to: Dear Abby, Teen Booklet, P.O. Box 447, Mount Morris, Ill. 61054-0447. (Postage is included.)

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