Recruits pulled after city fire trainee’s injuries

The Watertown Fire Department station on South Massey Street in the city. Watertown Daily Times

WATERTOWN — Several fire departments pulled recruits from the state’s fire academy after a city firefighter suffered a medical emergency while participating in a training drill Wednesday at the facility in Montour Falls, near Watkins Glen.

Battalion Chief Sean McGarrity of the Ridge Road Fire Department, in Greece, Monroe County, confirmed that four department recruits were pulled from the training at the New York State Academy of Fire Science in Schuyler County. They will not return when training resumes Tuesday.

“In light of what happened, we brought them home,” the battalion chief said Saturday.

The city of Rochester Fire Department brought home its seven recruits following what happened to the Watertown trainee.

Lt. Ryan Fleming, the Rochester Fire Department’s public information officer, said his department “is still evaluating” whether the seven recruits will return to training at the state academy when it resumes Tuesday.

Rochester normally trains its own recruits at its training center, but COVID-19 changed that this year, he said. Lt. Fleming is an instructor there.

He hasn’t talked to the Rochester recruits, so he doesn’t know what happened and doesn’t know whether the recruits saw what happened.

“It’s so tragic,” he said.

Other Monroe County fire departments also ended training at the state academy because of what happened.

City and Watertown Fire Department officials have said Peyton Morse, 23, of LaFargeville, was injured while attending recruit training at the state academy. He was enrolled in an 11-week training program. He became unresponsive during a drill involving the use of a breathing apparatus.

He is in critical but stable condition in the intensive care unit at Guthrie Robert Packer Hospital in Sayre, Penn.

State police are investigating the incident.

According to a statement, Chet Lasell, assistant director of communications at the state Division of Homeland Security and Emergency Services, said fire departments withdrew recruits from the training program following the incident.

Mr. Lasell also said in the statement that some instructors have been removed from training as the state police investigation continues. The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health and the Public Employee Safety and Health Bureau also are conducting investigations.

“Pending the ongoing investigation, certain instructors have been administratively removed from the training schedule. There is no doubt this is a difficult situation and we understand the decision made by some departments to withdraw from the program at this time,” Mr. Lasell said in the statement.

Trainees who return Tuesday will participate in emergency vehicle operations training and flammable gas firefighter training, according to the statement.

“The New York State Academy of Fire Science puts the safety and security of its recruits above all else,” Mr. Lasell said. “It’s well known that firefighting is an inherently dangerous and physically demanding profession and that’s why we have worked tirelessly to ensure our curriculum not only prepares recruit firefighters for the rigors of live fire operations, but does so as safely and effectively as possible.”

If they want to return to the academy, recruits will be welcome to continue their training in the future, he said.

City fire department officials are not releasing further details as the incident is under active investigation.

Mr. Morse is also a volunteer with the LaFargeville Fire Department.

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