Watertown fire chief on Peyton Morse findings: ‘We’re left with pretty hard questions’

Updated: Jul. 28, 2021 at 4:00 PM EDT
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WATERTOWN, New York (WWNY) - Watertown Fire Chief Matt Timerman is reacting to the findings of 2 reports into the death of Peyton Morse. He says those reports give him confidence to now call on the state to do a new internal investigation of the New York State Fire Academy, and not be afraid of the answers he thinks they’ll find.

With an autopsy report showing Peyton Morse was a healthy 21-year-old with no heart problems or pre-existing conditions, coupled with a report showing Morse’s air pack he was using at the state fire academy March 3, 2021, was in fine working order, Timerman says the state needs to start looking at another variable: the training environment at the fire academy.

“Now we’re left with pretty hard questions. How does a healthy 21-year-old firefighter with a functioning air pack - how does he go into cardiac arrest during training,” said Timerman.

The chief has penned a letter (seen below this article) to the acting state fire commissioner, who oversees the state fire academy, saying it’s time for the state to talk.

In the letter, Timerman writes: “In light of these reports and given the concerning reports from other recruits in Peyton’s class; I, as the Fire Chief of the City of Watertown Fire Department am formally asking the New York State Office of Fire Prevention and Control to immediately begin an internal investigation into the events leading up to Firefighter Morse’s death...I further ask that OFPC be fully transparent with the results of the investigation.”

The chief says part of that investigation should include speaking with the instructors who ran Peyton’s training the day he suffered cardiac arrest. Chief Timerman believes that hasn’t happened yet.

“I’ve been told by the administration at the Office of Fire Prevention and Control that they have not been able to speak to their employees about the incident,” he said.

Who is stopping that? Timerman said, “Their attorneys.”

To be clear, the chief says the group that runs the academy can’t even talk to its own instructors about what happened.

“My take on it is that the Office of Fire Prevention and Control is nervous about what they’re going to find. And if they ask questions, they are going to get answers they don’t like,” said Timerman.

While Timerman is glad to have the autopsy and air pack reports, he doesn’t like the autopsy ruled Morse’s death was of natural causes, calling it a technical definition.

The chief explains the conclusion could have been 1 of 5 things: suicide; homicide; accidental; natural, or undetermined. He feels “natural” is misleading and doesn’t represent what really happened.

“If it turns out that nobody did anything wrong, frankly, that would be great. I would love to hear that. It would make me feel good that my brothers and sisters in the fire service didn’t let Peyton down. I don’t need there to be a crime. However, if there is a crime, then Peyton deserves justice,” he said.

Chief Timerman is also getting a state group of career fire chiefs to back his call for the state to start asking questions and becoming transparent as to why Morse fatally suffered cardiac arrest at the state fire academy.

7 News reached out to the Office of Fire Prevention and Control for comment. The state Division of Homeland Security and Emergency Services, which oversees OFPC, issued the following statement: “There are several independent investigations surrounding the death of Firefighter Peyton Morse which members of the State Office of Fire Prevention and Control (OFPC) are already participating in. As we have communicated to the Watertown Fire Department and to the press over the past five months, OFPC has and will continue to be fully cooperative throughout the course of these ongoing investigations. The insinuation that OFPC is not allowing personnel to speak with investigators and the allegation that they are “stonewalling” is false and any suggestion otherwise would be factually incorrect.”

OFPC is participating in three active investigations conducted by state police, the state Public Employee Safety and Health Bureau, and the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health.

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