FIREFIGHTERS battling to rescue two stricken colleagues could potentially have reached them more than 30 minutes earlier if different techniques had been used to put out the fire, an inquest heard.

A London-based fire investigator called in to study the Shirley Towers blaze said it could have been put out within five minutes if a water jet had been sprayed straight at the flames before they fully engulfed the lounge and kitchen of Flat 72.

But Richard Hunt said there appeared to be no way that would have happened on the night Alan Bannon and Jim Shears died, because Hampshire firefighters had been trained to use a different method to beat back the fire.

Questioned by Fire Brigades' Union barrister Martin Seaward, representing the families, Mr Hunt said the pulse spraying technique used by firefighters worried about creating dangerous steam was not the best way to deal with the fire.

He said theoretically, had a solid jet been used, most of the smoke, heat and gas would have disappeared out of the broken lounge window of the ninth-floor flat.

But crews on the night continued pulsing - putting short bursts of water into the air to cool hot gases - until an emergency was declared over their colleagues at 9.08pm.

They have told Southampton Coroner's Court they were worried about making things worse for any firefighters upstairs in the flat.

Mr Seaward has previously told the inquest the families of Mr Bannon, 38, and Mr Shears, 35, believe a breathing apparatus (BA) emergency should have been called at 8.41pm, just three minutes after the fire suddenly developed rapidly. Hampshire Fire and Rescue Service's own report said it should have been declared at 8.46pm.

Mr Hunt said although conditions upstairs would still have been extremely tough for any rescue team, the recovery effort would have likely taken the same time it did when the firefighters were eventually pulled from the flat at 9.32pm and 9.36pm.

Mr Hunt said: "If you turn up to a fire where there's a person reported you can't spend 20 or 30 minutes pulse spraying.

"This was a fairly small fire compartment. It wouldn't need more than one jet being applied for more than five minutes.

"In my time as a firefighter, when you arrive at a scene of a fire you would extinguish the fire - you wouldn't pulse spray.

"I cannot comment on Hampshire Fire and Rescue Service's techniques of firefighting, but you must apply water to the fire because pulse spraying will not put out the fire."