WATERTOWN, N.Y. (WWNY) - 7 News has learned safety concerns were raised a year ago about the state training facility where a Watertown firefighter suffered a medical emergency and then later died.
A Rochester-area fire department voiced concerns about the same type of training Watertown firefighter Peyton Morse was doing last week.
The details are contained in a letter obtained by 7 News.
Dated March 24, 2020, the now-retired chief of the Ridge Road Fire District, Steven Mills, expressed his concerns about the State Academy of Fire Science to the state fire administrator, Francis Nerney Jr.
In the letter, Chief Mills said, “Since 2019, we have encountered a series of events and injuries that cause considerable concern regarding the training being delivered particular to the ‘mask confidence’ and ‘survival week.’”
Sources tell us that’s the same training Peyton Morse was doing when he had a medical emergency last Wednesday. Mask confidence training aims to do what it says: give firefighters confidence when they are masked and relying on their breathing apparatus.
In the training, the mask is obstructed with a cloth or wax paper to simulate a smoke filled room. Then the recruit is challenged by a series of obstacles.
What went wrong for firefighter Morse isn’t clear, only that he became unresponsive.
In his letter, Chief Mills says in 2019 and 2020, his recruits suffered injuries that required hospitalization. The injuries ranged from skin tears and staph infections to dislocated shoulders.
After speaking with his recruits back then, Mills writes to the state administrator, “Their reports indicate questionable conduct by instructors shown toward the recruits who are relying on these seasoned veterans to instruct, not to seemingly intimidate and deviate from standards to determine one’s point of breaking.”
7 News spoke with the new chief of the Ridge Road Fire District, who confirmed this letter. He said when he heard about firefighter Morse’s injury, he immediately went to the training facility to pick up his 4 recruits who were there.
Chief Steve Johnson said the recruits raised the same concerns about the training they just went through that were outlined in the letter pertaining to 2019 and 2020.
A spokesperson with the Office of the State Fire Administrator issued the following statement:
“The New York State Academy of Fire Science puts the safety and security of its recruits above all else. Upon receipt of Chief Mills’ letter, Officials reached out to him directly to discuss his concerns. This communication was professional and well received. The Office discussed the job performance requirements contained in State and National Standards and an ongoing revision to the physical fitness training program. Chief Mills indicated his satisfaction with the information provided in response to his concerns and indicated a written follow up would not be necessary.”