BOILING a face flannel in a saucepan almost ended in disaster when Mary Cooper left her bungalow and forgot to turn off the gas beneath the pan.

It boiled dry and started to smoke. Left unattended, the flannel would have burst into flames and started a fire.

But an innovative alarm system sent an automatic emergency signal from the Lilliput bungalow to lifeline community operators a few miles away at Poole civic centre.

A call was made to Mary's home to find out what was going on. When there was no reply, Dorset Fire and Rescue Service was scrambled to investigate.

Within six minutes, firefighters were at the scene, averting a potentially disastrous blaze as they took the smoking saucepan and its contents from the house.

The first Mary knew of the event was when she returned home later and saw the burned saucepan in her driveway.

Had she only a normal smoke detector, it is unlikely neighbours or the fire service would have been aware of the smouldering danger until a large fire had already taken hold.

The drama is testament to the effectiveness of the Poole Lifeline Community Alarm Service, operated by Poole council.

"Not everyone will react to the sound of a smoke alarm in a neighbourhood nowadays. The first reaction usually comes when there is a sound of crackling fire and by then it can be too late," said Steve Shuck, Dorset Fire and Rescue Service area manager.

"With this system the alarm goes to the monitoring centre at the civic centre and they get straight on the phone to the person's home to ask if it is a false alarm. If there is no reply they immediately alert the emergency services."

The system covers fire and smoke alarms and also has an emergency button that can be worn and activated if a person has a fall or is suddenly taken ill.

Mary, of Elgin Road, said: "I was shocked to realise I had forgotten to turn off the gas. When I saw the saucepan on the drive I thanked God I had added the smoke detector alarm to the Poole Lifeline Service.

"The quick action of the lifeline operator certainly saved my house from fire damage."

The lifeline service costs £15 and can be arranged through Poole council by calling 01202 733255.

First published: August 23, 2005