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What Sales Can Learn From A Firefighter

Posted by Carole Mahoney on 2/25/20 7:15 AM

Peter Cutrer Training to Be

Training is critical to a number of professions. In fighting fires, proper training can make the difference between life or death. So how do firefighters prepare?

Check out this clip to learn more about training from Peter Cutrer, a 15 year Firefighter/EMT, Fire Marshal, Fire Instructor and Deputy Chief who now trains public safety agencies like NASA, Disney, Boston Fire, FDNY, and ESPN.

How has your training prepared you for being a firefighter?



Carole Mahoney: As a firefighter for the past 15 years or so, you've seen a lot, you've gone through a lot, and I'm wondering how has your training prepared you for that? Because that is one of the things that we talk a lot about in sales is how best to train and develop sales people. How was training to be a firefighter different from any of the other jobs that you've done?

Peter Cutrer: Well, I had a run of the mill type jobs. In fact, my first job when I was 15 trying to save up for a car was Burger King. I kind of pick on that a little bit. I worked there for about a year and a half, but it was a good team building environment. Once I started volunteering as a firefighter and then a few years later got hired on full-time as a firefighter, I quickly realized that team environment is super important because they say all the time there is no I in team and another expression they use is live to train, train to live. In a firefighting environment, which is a very high risk, low frequency event type environment, training is vital for you to live.

You have to train because there's going to be situations you get into that you have to almost involuntarily just like breathing, you don't think about it. You're going to revert back to your training and that training is what's going to save your life.

Carole Mahoney: What do you mean by low frequency?

Peter Cutrer: Firefighting is a high risk, low frequency environment. The situations you get called on, such as a house fire, really don't happen that much, but the level of danger is at the very top. With a high risk, high frequency, if you're doing something all the time and it's dangerous, you can get used to that level. With firefighting, and I imagine it's similar to sales, you're thrown into environments all the time that you're not normally dealing with and sometimes it can be very difficult to deal with. With firefighting, these high risk events, such as a house fire, when you're inside a building and it's on fire, it doesn't happen every day. It doesn't happen every week. It may only happen once every couple months, but you're in that environment and it's very dangerous.

You have to train because your training is what's going to help you do things automatically without even thinking.

Carole Mahoney: One of the things that I've been talking with sales leaders about is how to train their salespeople for dominant response, so that when they're in those either mentally stressful or in your case physically, as well as mentally stressful situations that are high risk, how do you do training in a way that when they're actually in the situation that they react the way that they're supposed to. What are some of the aspects of your training as a firefighter that helped you to have that kind of a dominant response?

Peter Cutrer: I like the term dominant response. That's kind of an interesting term. The training that we receive forces you to kind of go into this automatic mode where you can go a certain way without thinking about it. For instance, when you're in a situation in a building and the situation in the compartment that you're in that's on fire turns to this point they call flash-over, it's a very dangerous you're not going to live through it situation, they give you training for bailing out a window. They teach you how to successfully rappel out of a window using whatever you have on you without dying obviously. There's also training with your air pack if it malfunctions, certain things you can do, how to conserve your breathing, how to control your breathing.

These type of training's, although when you're in the classroom, it can be sometimes quite boring. You're thinking, what is this going to ever do for me? But then as soon as you get to the situation where you need it, you automatically default back to the way you were trained and that's what's going to save you. I'll give you a quick for instance. With ropes, they teach you how to tie a lot of knots. Now, you may think, why do I need to know how to tie all these knots? It's string and rope. I understand it's important. However, there was a fire that we had to create a bail out situation with and the tying of the knots and the ropes that we were trained to do ultimately saved our lives because we're able to tie a knot quickly in a very bad environment. You can't even see what you're doing.

But because we had done it so many times, it was an automatic response. We were able to secure our rappelling line to an object and bail out. Again, the training that you do over and over and repetitively becomes what you do automatically when you need to use it.

Carole Mahoney: You're actually being forced to practice even sometimes the most minute things over and over again so that they become automatic. Now, I've seen in our even community and neighborhood where you have like an old abandoned house that the firefighters will come in and set it on fire and it's a training exercise. They're actually putting you into actual burning buildings to train you in order to be able to do that. In sales, we can call that role plays and practices. What are some of the other ways that you had to practice in your training in order to develop that response?

Peter Cutrer: Again, I think it's repetitivity, just doing something over and over again until it becomes automatic. There's a lot of training that we do like that. For instance, with a motor vehicle accident, a car. Somebody crashes. You don't have a lot of time to sit there and figure out how to cut the car open because the person's in serious condition. We train over and over and over again on how to open cars in a quick fashion to extricate somebody. Sometimes the classroom work can be a little bit boring because you're studying diagrams of some of the new cars, especially hybrids with all these wires everywhere. But if you didn't take the training and you didn't know how to do it, when the situation is high stress and your adrenaline is just pumping, you sometimes tend to lose your sense of thinking.

That's where your training really comes into play because that is a stabilizing force to dealing with these stressful situations.

Carole Mahoney: I often talk about a training and coaching as trying to answer three questions, do you know what to do, do you know how to do it, and then will you actually do it in this situation itself? When we're looking at salespeople, the training, you know what to do in this particular situation like the classroom work. Really you actually do. Can you actually tie the knots? Then when, like you said, the adrenaline is pumping and the emotions are high, will you actually be able to execute in that moment or will you be like, probably I would, the deer in the headlights kind of looking at it going, I can't believe that this is happening in front of me, rather than taking action.

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Topics: What Sales Can Learn From Series