New York officials should accommodate the survivors of Peyton Morse as well as Watertown authorities and two state legislators seeking answers to what caused the firefighter’s death earlier this year.
State Sen. Patricia A. Ritchie, R-Heuvelton, and Assemblyman Mark C. Walczyk, R-Watertown, sent a letter dated Aug. 18 to Patrick A. Murphy, commissioner of the state’s Homeland Security and Emergency Services. They asked for an internal investigation into what led to the medical emergency Morse suffered March 3 during training at the New York State Academy of Fire Science in Montour Falls, Schuyler County, near Watkins Glen.
The 21-year-old LaFargeville man, who was participating in an 11-week training program to join the Watertown Fire Department, died March 12.
Ritchie and Walczyk requested that the state Office of Fire Prevention and Control fully cooperate in several investigations underway. The State Police, Public Employee Safety and Health Bureau and the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health are looking into the matter. More than 40 fire chiefs also signed the letter.
Morse became unresponsive March 3 during a training exercise. He was using a self-contained breathing apparatus at the time. He was initially treated at a local hospital but then taken by helicopter to Guthrie Robert Packer Hospital in Sayre, Pa., where he was placed in the intensive care unit.
Morse served as the assistant fire chief for the LaFargeville Volunteer Fire Department. He previously volunteered at the Shaker Road-Loudonville Fire Department as a student at Siena College.
The coroner’s office in Bradford County, Pa., reported that Morse died as a result of natural causes: anoxic brain injury, cardiac arrest and consequences of physical exertion while using the breathing apparatus. NIOSH said that the device he used was “in good mechanical order.”
Anoxic brain injury occurs when the brain is deprived of sufficient oxygen for five minutes or longer. This may happen following a stroke or cardiac arrest.
Watertown Fire Chief Matthew Timerman expressed frustration with how the state has handled the situation. He also said he’s not sure how a young and healthy individual could die of natural causes if the breathing apparatus had been working properly.
Members of Morse’s family also have called for more information about what caused the firefighter’s death. Many believe that authorities have not been as forthcoming as they could be about what transpired.
Timerman reported hearing stories that firefighter recruits may have been treated inappropriately during their training at the Fire Academy. Some fire departments withdrew their recruits from being trained there.
The state agencies involved in this case must do everything they can to investigate Morse’s death and what occurred at the Fire Academy that day. If there was anything inappropriate going on, such a probe will reveal what can be done to prevent this from happening again.
The investigations also could show that nothing improper took place. This could restore the Fire Academy’s reputation among fire department officials who are suspicious.
So it’s in the best interests of the state and everyone else to see this reviewed thoroughly. State authorities need to have effective channels of communication with Morse’s family and Timerman about how they’re going to proceed and what they find.