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by Abigail Van Buren

DEAR ABBY: Twenty-four years ago, the International Association of Fire Chiefs (IAFC) and Energizer spotted a disturbing trend. Many fatalities were taking place in homes without working smoke alarms. In response, the "Change Your Clock Change Your Battery" campaign was developed to remind people to test and change their smoke alarm batteries each fall when they turn back their clocks at the end of daylight saving time.

According to the National Fire Protection Association, while 96 percent of American homes have at least one smoke alarm, 19 percent do not have at least one that works! The reason? Missing or dead batteries.

Please remind your readers that when they set their clocks back on Nov. 6, to use the extra hour they gain to change and test the batteries in their smoke alarms and carbon monoxide detectors.

It is recommended that smoke alarms be replaced every 10 years and be a mix of both ionization and photoelectric alarms to warn against all types of fires. They are the best defense against the devastating effects of a home fire.

Thank you, Abby, for once again joining me in spreading this lifesaving message. -- CHIEF AL GILLESPIE, IAFC PRESIDENT

DEAR AL: Just call me Old Faithful -- I'm glad to help.

Readers, this year the IAFC is encouraging families -- especially moms who understand what it means to be a family's first responder when it comes to family emergencies -- to visit and take the pledge to change the batteries in your smoke alarms when changing your clocks.

No one should be hurt or lose a life because of a non-working smoke alarm, yet nearly 3,000 people die each year in home fires. A working smoke alarm will provide extra precious seconds for you and your family to get out safely.

DEAR ABBY: Because I love the out-of-doors, I volunteered to prepare my boyfriend's duck boat for the hunting season. I sanded, primed and detailed the boat and painted cattails on the sides. I bought seats, hardware, even made a full camouflage duck blind on my sewing machine.

My boyfriend is elated and even more excited that I intend to hunt with him. His buddy is not. He has backed out of the hunting trips and refuses to talk to me about the issue.

Should I tell my boyfriend I have changed my mind and save their friendship, or go with him and reward myself for all my hard work? -- AMBUSHED IN MINNESOTA

DEAR AMBUSHED: Do not back out. The person your boyfriend's buddy should be talking to isn't you, it's your boyfriend. His behavior is selfish and childish. A compromise might be in order, but it won't happen unless "the boys" arrange it between themselves. So stay out of the line of fire.

DEAR ABBY: There are people in my life who do not bring me joy -- just drama and petty backstabbing. How do I tactfully remove myself from an individual or group of people? I run into them all the time at business events and restaurants in our small city. -- AT ARM'S LENGTH IN IOWA

DEAR AT ARM'S LENGTH: Unless you're planning on moving to a cave in the Himalayas, there is no way you can completely avoid them. When you see them be friendly, speak in generalities, give them as little information as possible and move on when they start to gossip. It works like a charm.

** ** ** 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.)