WATERTOWN, New York (WWNY) - As Peyton Morse lay unconscious on the floor of a firefighter training school, his instructors leaned over him, yelling, asking Morse if he was quitting.
That’s according to other firefighter recruits who were there, and who talked to state investigators.
Morse is the young Watertown firefighter who died last March, after being overcome while training at the state Fire Academy in Montour Falls. His death has raised questions about how that training is conducted, and whether Peyton Morse’s death could have been avoided.
Using the state Freedom of Information Law, 7 News obtained a copy of the state investigation into Morse’s death. While many names, and some information, have been blacked out, the report we received gives the most vivid picture to date of what happened on March 3, 2021.
Morse was overcome while completing the last in a series of obstacles, essentially, exercises in learning how to get out of difficult and life threatening situations.
While going through the ‘box obstacle,’ Morse struggled, but couldn’t get through. At one point, he stopped moving and instructors had to pull him part-way through the obstacle.
When he came out, Morse was unconscious and turning blue.
Instructors have denied ever hearing Morse say he couldn’t breathe, and one official told investigators “At no time did I believe, or have reason to believe, that he was not breathing or breathing adequately.”
Recruits who witnessed what happened after Morse was out of the obstacle seemed shocked by what happened.
“His body was limp and he was not talking. Instructors were yelling at him at the top of their lungs and were asking him if he was quitting,” one of them told investigators in a statement.
“After some time, they realized he wasn’t breathing.”
Wrote another: “It was hard to watch these instructors yell at a recruit as he is not breathing.”
“One of the worse things I have seen in my life.”
A third wrote ““Peyton had been struggling for 8 -10 mins.”
“He stated ‘I cannot breathe.”
“He was not taken seriously.’
And another recruit said there is a larger problem.
He wrote: “The entire point of me coming here, the entire reason my department is paying for me to be here is to learn how to be a firefighter. I am not here to be treated like sh**. Yelling at students at the top of their lungs and pushing them to the brink is an environment that is not conducive to learning. In the three short weeks we have sent four people to the hospital, one of which in cardiac arrest.
“The administration of this academy should be ashamed.”
Morse was taken from the Fire Academy with no pulse. He died nine days later in a Pennsylvania hospital. The official cause of death was “anoxic brain injury (the brain being starved of oxygen) due to cardiac arrest (heart failure) as a consequence of physical exertion during...training”
State investigators ultimately concluded “no violations of occupational safety and health standards have been identified in this investigation,” though they did urge the Fire Academy to change some of its procedures.
A separate investigation by state police is ongoing.
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