WATERTOWN — On the day he was offered the job, Peyton Morse made sure to let his friend, an Albany area firefighter, know he was joining the Watertown Fire Department.
Mike Russell, a career firefighter with the Shaker Road Loudonville Fire Department, near Albany, remembered exactly what Mr. Morse said to him that day.
“He said it was his dream job,” Mr. Russell recalled.
Members of the Shaker Road Loudonville Fire Department are now rallying in support of their friend, who remains in critical but stable condition at a Pennsylvania hospital after suffering a medical emergency last week at the state’s fire academy in Montour Falls, near Watkins Glen.
Mr. Morse, 23, of LaFargeville, was injured while attending recruit training at the state fire academy. He was enrolled in an 11-week training program. He became unresponsive during a drill involving the use of a breathing apparatus.
In 2019, Mr. Morse was going to Siena College when he started volunteering for the Shaker Road Fire Department, where he trained and learned about firefighting from the career firefighters at the combination paid and volunteer department.
Chief Patrick O’Connor remembered that the young firefighter loved being around the guys.
“He was there every day,” the chief said. “He wanted to be a career firefighter. He wanted to be at the house with the guys.”
Since the incident, a member of the Albany area fire department has been at the young firefighter’s hospital bedside as they wait to hear more about his condition. They’ve joined members of the Watertown Fire Department to give support to Mr. Morse’s family.
While he was volunteering at the Albany station, they knew that Mr. Morse, who served as a volunteer with the LaFargeville Volunteer Fire Department, where he rose to the rank of assistant fire chief, had a keen interest in becoming a career firefighter, so it was no surprise he was pursuing that goal with Watertown.
Mr. Russell remembered coming back from a fire call when his young friend blurted out what he wanted to do with his life.
“Firefighter, that’s a good career because that’s what we do as a career,” Mr. Russell recalled responding.
Mr. Morse was always eager to learn from his mentors, and they were more than willing to help him learn about the career they loved, Mr. Russell said. He got so involved that he filled in during paid day shifts when openings came up, Chief O’Connor said.
They were impressed with his passion for the work, his devotion with his involvement and his ability to do so much on a daily basis, all while maintaining a 3.50 to 4.0 grade point average.
They’re proud that their friend achieved his goal of becoming a firefighter.
“We loved that kid,” Chief O’Connor said.
His friends at the Albany fire station are raising money for the family for their expenses with the sale of T-shirts designed by one of the firefighters there. Selling for $20, between 750 and 850 MorseStrong T-shirts have been sold so far. They’ve received orders from all over the country and from Canada.
“He’d be the first person to come forward and do this for someone else,” Mr. Russell said.
In Watertown, Winning Productions on Faichney Drive is also taking orders for T-shirts to raise money for the family. Another 600 T-shirts have sold through the Watertown business.
His firefighter friends are hoping for some good news. They didn’t want to talk about what happened last week at the New York State Academy of Fire Science in Schuyler County while they wait for the investigation to be completed.
On Wednesday morning, Chief O’Connor was driving down to the hospital in Sayre, Pa., where Mr. Morse is being treated, while Watertown Fire Chief Matthew Timerman was returning to Watertown after being there with the recruit and his family.
Another Watertown Fire Department recruit who was training with Mr. Morse at the academy has returned home, Chief Timerman said. He’s working out of the Massey Street fire station while department officials figure out how the recruit can finish up his training.
Chief Timerman said the fire department won’t send any other recruits to the state academy until it’s known that it’s safe for them to go and that changes would be made to the training program.
The state police, the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, also known as NIOSH, and the Public Employee Safety and Health Bureau, also known as PESH, are also investigating what happened.
Training resumed at the academy Tuesday, but several fire departments pulled recruits from further training after the incident. The state academy also removed some instructors while the investigation is completed.
Chet Lasell, assistant director of communications at the state Division of Homeland Security and Emergency Services, said Wednesday that he could not comment about the status of the state police inquiry because it was an “ongoing investigation.”
He said he would provide additional information later about the current status of training at the state fire academy.
To order a MorseStrong T-shirt, send an email at MorseStrong.itemorder.com.