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by Abigail Van Buren

DEAR ABBY: When I went to the movies with my mother as a young boy, she would sometimes cover my eyes with her hand and ask, "Can you tell me where the exits are?" She made it a game that was fun, but she was serious about teaching the lesson. I've always remembered it, because it's a very important one.

No matter where people are, everyone needs to know how to escape safely if fire should break out. That's why I've joined the non-profit National Fire Protection Association in its public safety efforts during Fire Prevention Week 2000. NFPA's campaign is called "Fire Drills: The Great Escape!" Its goal is to encourage people everywhere to plan and practice their own fire drills, especially in their homes, where eight out of 10 fire deaths occur.

When was the last time you had a fire drill? Please, take a few minutes to walk through your home with your family and identify at least two escape routes in case a fire blocks one of them. Then practice using them, and choose a specific place outside to assemble and make sure that everyone is safe and wait for the fire department. Also, if you haven't done it lately, test your smoke alarms to be sure they're working.

Abby, I hope your readers will take this message to heart. Fire is fast -- so fast, you may have only a few moments to get out. However, if you react quickly, you can survive a fire. Fire drills really are the "Great Escape." Planning ahead and practicing carefully are the keys to survival. -- SEN. EDWARD M. KENNEDY, NFPA HONORARY CHAIR, FIRE PREVENTION WEEK 2000

DEAR SENATOR KENNEDY: That you are lending your name to this lifesaving effort is terrific. Too often, lessons about fire safety are learned the hard way -- in the aftermath of a tragedy. Every year, more than 4,000 people die from fire-related injuries in the United States -- the great majority of them in homes. In an effort to combat that loss, the National Fire Prevention Association has spearheaded "Fire Drills: The Great Escape!" -- a multiyear public safety campaign to highlight the importance of planning and practicing fire drills.

National Fire Prevention Week runs from Oct. 8 to Oct. 14. Across North America, fire departments will be teaching these important lessons. Please, readers, plan and practice your fire drill today. It shouldn't have to take a tragedy to get people to pay attention.

DEAR ABBY: I recently became engaged and am looking for just the right dress. The issue I am having trouble with is that I have a rather large tattoo of an orchid on my chest. I'm not sure if it would be appropriate to expose the tattoo at the wedding. I also have other tattoos on my wrist and shoulders that may be exposed.

Our families are not formally religious and they have seen the tattoos before, but I'm afraid of looking cheap or tacky with a huge flower climbing out of the bust of my dress.


DEAR NEEDS TO KNOW: Only this: When in doubt, cover up!

For everything you need to know about wedding planning, order "How to Have a Lovely Wedding." Send a business-sized, self-addressed envelope, plus check or money order for $3.95 ($4.50 in Canada) to: Dear Abby, Wedding Booklet, P.O. Box 447, Mount Morris, IL 61054-0447. (Postage is included.)

4520 Main St., Kansas City, Mo. 64111; (816) 932-6600