A naturalistic decision-making approach to managing non-routine fire incidents: evidence from expert firefighters


The current paper builds on the naturalistic decision-making paradigm to advance the meaning and application of expert intuition in real-life settings. While conventional models of expert intuition often link intuitive competence to pattern recognition skills, the current paper advances prior knowledge by demonstrating that intuitive expertise is inextricably linked to actors’ ability to discriminate between subtle informational cues through the process of information filtering. Drawing on data from a phenomenological study involving thirty (30) fireground commanders (UK ¼ 15, Nigeria ¼ 15), the study utilised the critical decision method (CDM) to explore the cognitive strategies utilised by these expert fire-fighters. The method entailed that each expert participant shared a retrospective non-routine fire incident that particularly challenged their expertise, allowing the resulting qualitative data to be coded and analysed using a combination of emergent themes analysis (ETA) and interpretative phenomenological analysis (IPA). Specifically, the paper develops and discusses: (i) a theoretical model of intuition that emerged directly from the expert incident accounts (ii) an inventory of forty-two critical cues that aided expert decision-making on the fireground, alongside a cue classification framework. Competence on the fireground was found to be a function of experts’ cue discriminatory and information filtering abilities that subsequently allowed information from multiple sources to be processed and utilised efficiently. Although the firefighting domain formed the central focus of this study, findings are deemed generalisable across other high-risk organisations.


The file attached to this record is the author's final peer reviewed version. The Publisher's final version can be found by following the DOI link.



Okoli, J.O., Watt, J. and Weller, G. (2021) A naturalistic decision-making approach to managing non-routine fire incidents: evidence from expert firefighters. Journal of Risk Research, 25 (2), pp. 198-217


Research Institute

Centre for Enterprise and Innovation (CEI)