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by Abigail Van Buren

DEAR ABBY: As a fire officer, I have seen far too many families fall victim to accidental home fires. It is devastating to find out that a life could have been saved if someone had only taken that simple step of replacing a dead battery in a smoke alarm. Nearly 96 percent of American homes have at least one smoke alarm. But did you know that 19 percent of American homes lack a working smoke alarm because the batteries are missing or dead?

For 22 years, the International Association of Fire Chiefs and Energizer have been committed to changing this statistic through the "Change Your Clock Change Your Battery" campaign. This partnership encourages families to change the battery in their smoke alarms when they set their clocks back an hour on Nov. 1. This message also serves as a reminder to communities nationwide to change the batteries in their carbon monoxide detectors.

As winter approaches, more people will begin using gas appliances to heat their homes and may find themselves at risk of carbon monoxide poisoning, called the "silent killer" because this gas is colorless, odorless and tasteless.

Thank you, Abby, for helping us spread this lifesaving message to your readers. -- JEFFREY D. JOHNSON, PRESIDENT, INTERNATIONAL ASSOCIATION OF FIRE CHIEFS

DEAR JEFF: I'm glad to help, and I know my readers are grateful for your timely reminder. It may seem like a menial task, but safeguarding yourselves and your families is extremely important -- so change those batteries this weekend!

DEAR ABBY: For the last two years I have been going out with a guy I'll call "Ricky." My problem is I don't love him anymore. A few weeks ago I told him I no longer wanted to be with him, and he started crying. He scared me when he said his life was in my hands.

Abby, I want to end it. Ricky suffocates me. He's depressed because his mom works and doesn't have time for him. His dad doesn't live with them, so Ricky feels he has only me to talk to. He wants to marry me, and I don't want to lie and say I will. It disturbs me that he still wants to be together even though he knows I'm not happy with him. He believes that if he's happy, I will be, too. Please tell me what do. -- TROUBLE IN SALINAS, CALIF.

DEAR TROUBLED: I'm sure the news that you wanted to break up was painful for Ricky to hear -- hence the tears -- but saying his life is in your hands was a form of emotional blackmail. For your sake, please don't fall for it.

Ricky appears to be needy and immature. Call his mother, tell her that you are ending the relationship and that he isn't taking it well. She's in a better position to see he gets emotional and psychological support than you are.

DEAR ABBY: My best friend, "Heather," is trying to trick her husband into having another child. They already have one, but he doesn't think they can handle two.

They have been fighting about this, and it has created problems in their marriage. Heather confided to me recently that she is going to stop using birth control "just to see what will happen," and I'm pretty sure she's not going to tell her husband first.

I wish I didn't know. But now that I do, I'm not sure where my responsibilities lie. Should I tell him, or keep my mouth shut and act surprised when Heather gets pregnant? -- KNOWS TOO MUCH IN BETHESDA

DEAR KNOWS TOO MUCH: This is your best friend. You should tell Heather that she's making a serious mistake. What she is doing is dishonest, underhanded, and could be the final straw that breaks her marriage apart. And yes, you should tip him off. If it isn't already too late, he may want to take precautions.

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 $6 (U.S. funds) to: Dear Abby -- Teen Booklet, P.O. Box 447, Mount Morris, IL 61054-0447. (Postage is included in the price.)