WATERTOWN — State Sen. Patricia A. Ritchie is echoing disappointment and anger over a state agency concluding that the state fire academy had no fault in the death of city firefighter Peyton L.S. Morse.
Last week, Watertown Fire Chief Matthew R. Timerman learned that an investigation by the Public Employee Safety and Health Bureau, or PESH, found that the New York State Academy of Fire Science did nothing wrong in what led to the young firefighter’s death in March.
The fire chief expressed his frustration and anger that PESH let the academy off the hook.
On Tuesday, Sen. Ritchie, R-Heuvelton, also expressed that she was “deeply disappointed and angered by the news” that PESH “failed to identify any wrongdoing” by the fire academy in Montour Falls.
“For more than eight months now, family, friends, fellow firefighters and the community have been looking for answers regarding what happened to Firefighter Morse,” she said in a statement. “PESH’s investigation brings us no closer to the truth and instead, lets the state off the hook completely.”
Chief Timerman and Mr. Morse’s parents, David and Stacy, have been critical of the way the fire academy handled training and how Peyton’s death is being investigated. They believe his death could have been prevented. PESH is expected to release its report this week about its findings.
Sen. Ritchie has called for a thorough investigation in what happened at the fire academy when Mr. Morse, 21, had a medical emergency on March 3.
He died in a Pennsylvania hospital nine days later.
Their concerns prompted a Schuyler County prosecutor and state police higher ups to initiate an investigation by the Violent Crimes Unit with state police Troop E, based in Canandaigua. The unit investigates assaults, homicides and other serious crimes. A lone state police investigator had been handling the investigation until then.
The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, or NIOSH, is also conducting an investigation to determine how to prevent similar situations in the future. The NIOSH report is expected to be completed in December.
“It is my hope that the other investigations taking place provide the answers and closure that so many are desperately seeking.” Sen. Ritchie said. “Just as importantly, I am hopeful they will identify any issues at the Academy that could potentially put other firefighters in jeopardy.”
Peyton’s medical emergency happened while he was using a Self Contained Breathing Apparatus, an SCBA, during training. It’s been determined that the breathing apparatus was in proper working order. His parents have insisted that he was in excellent health, and they don’t understand why instructors didn’t come to his aid when he started to have trouble breathing.
Fire department officials across the state have become increasingly concerned about the training recruits receive at the academy.