State Fire Academy won’t train Watertown recruits, say chief and union

Published: Nov. 1, 2022 at 5:45 PM EDT
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WATERTOWN, New York (WWNY) - Watertown’s fire chief and the union representing firefighters are on the same page - the state training center won’t be seeing any more Watertown recruits for the foreseeable future.

This comes after the news that no charges will be brought in the death of city firefighter Peyton Morse. On Monday, a Schuyler County grand jury determined there wasn’t enough evidence to file criminal charges in connection with the death.

Morse died in 2021 following a training exercise at the State Fire Academy in Montour Falls.

One state investigation had witnesses saying they heard Morse yell for help - that he couldn’t breathe - but that he was not taken seriously.

The investigation did not cite the academy for doing anything wrong.

Watertown Fire Chief Matt Timerman feels differently and fears something like this could happen again.

“It’s an environment of hazing and bullying down there. I think we’re just empowering them now. I think you can expect unfortunately to see more of that as time goes on. That’s enormously frustrating to me,” he said.

The state training center won’t be seeing any more Watertown recruits for the foreseeable future. Timerman wants the academy to show signs of what he deems “real, honest change.”

“At this point, not only do I not see enough change, there hasn’t been a ‘sorry,’ not even expression of remorse from anyone,” he said.

Timerman isn’t the only one who’s cautious about sending recruits to the facility. The head of the firefighters union has expressed similar concerns.

“I think that’s a wise decision given what’s happened. Time will tell whether we ever send anyone back there again,” said Dan Daugherty, president of the Watertown Professional Firefighters Association Local 191.

According to Daugherty, instead of going to the academy in Montour Falls, Watertown firefighters will instead train in-house and at other facilities like the ones in Utica and Onondaga County.

For its part, state officials have maintained the training center is committed to safe, effective and quality training.