‘Criminals killed my son”: parents reflect on firefighter’s death a year later

Updated: Mar. 3, 2022 at 5:00 PM EST
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WATERTOWN, New York (WWNY) - One year later and no closer to answers. On March 3 of last year, Watertown firefighter Peyton Morse couldn’t breathe while training at the state fire academy in Montour Falls.

He went into a coma and died 9 days later. His autopsy showed he was a healthy 21-year-old. In fact, his organs were donated. Tests on his equipment prove the breathing apparatus didn’t malfunction, and a state investigation revealed conflicting statements as to what happened that day.

Morse’s parents say their emotions run from sad to frustrated to angry.

“Criminals killed my son,” said Dave Morse, Peyton’s father.

Dave and Stacy Morse are adamant that the state fire academy and its instructors failed their son, Peyton.

On March 3, 2021, Peyton Morse was crawling through box, wearing an air tank and mask. Suddenly he couldn’t breathe and called out for help. Peyton’s parents don’t believe he got it from instructors, who were inches away.

“We’ve heard firefighters supporting each other - supposedly these are 5 firefighters and they weren’t there for their brother, Peyton. They were there for themselves,” said Dave.

The Morses believe the state’s training environment allows for hazing and bullying. One year after Peyton’s death, they still believe that to be true.

“We’re not going away,” said Stacy Snyder-Morse.

The Morses want answers. They fought for a state investigation to get done, and thought it would help. Instead, it showed conflicting statements from witnesses.

The report said “3 recruits heard Morse say, ‘I can’t breathe.’” Two of the instructors said Morse made no verbal comments. Two others said they only heard Morse say he was stuck.

Peyton’s mom believes the recruits “without a doubt” and shares what another recruit told investigators.

“If you can talk, you can breathe,” said Stacy.

The report points out nobody else heard that.

Dave Morse, a state trooper for 20 years, says the instructors’ accounts are too similar.

“It’s not surprising, but it should set up a red flag when 5 people all have the same story,” he said.

The state report into the state academy didn’t issue any violations. Peyton’s parents, along with state Senator Patty Ritchie, say it lets the academy off the hook.

State Assemblyman Mark Walczyk asked for Governor Hochul to order flags to fly at half-staff on March 12, when Peyton passed. Walczyk hasn’t heard if that’ll happen.

“What did he do that she doesn’t feel he deserves the same condolences that she gives others,” asked Stacy.

The Morses want to change the training culture of the state fire academy. They’ve reached out to the governor’s office and the Attorney General’s office, but have heard nothing.

“This is more than about Peyton because it doesn’t matter what happens in any of the lawsuits or criminal courts. At the end of the day, we don’t have Peyton. We’re fighting for others now,” said Dave.

We reached out to the governor’s office to ask about the flags and about the Morses’ concerns, but have not heard back.

The state fire academy has repeatedly told us it believes the investigation done into the state academy was thorough.

There is a state police investigation also underway into what happened that day at the state fire academy.

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