Watertown’s fire chief not satisfied with NIOSH report into firefighter’s death

Published: Dec. 16, 2022 at 6:04 PM EST
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WATERTOWN, New York (WWNY) - The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, or NIOSH, has completed an investigation into the death of Watertown firefighter Peyton Morse.

On Friday, the results went public. (See the full report at the bottom of this story.)

Almost two years after the death of Watertown firefighter Peyton Morse, people are still looking for answers. On Friday, NIOSH released a 42-page report detailing the incident. But Watertown fire Chief Matt Timerman says he’s not satisfied.

“It read as though the author was not trying to offend anyone. For me, I want to make sure that this doesn’t happen again. I think it needs to be written in a way to be more blunt,” he said.

Morse, a 21-year-old Watertown firefighter recruit, experienced a medical emergency on March 3, 2021, at the State Fire Academy in Montour Falls. Working with breathing apparatus, he then couldn’t breathe and stopped moving while inside a training box.

Morse died nine days later.

Among the chief’s concerns with the report was a statement in the executive summary, saying that instructors “provided coaching” to help Morse continue the exercise that resulted in his death. Some witness testimony has said otherwise.

“It was more yelling, yelling obscenities, berating. That was the environment those recruits were working in,” said Timerman.

The report comes with a list of suggestions to avoid similar incidents in the future. Number two calls for a clearly illustrated system for post-training recovery. At the academy, recovery periods were left up to individual recruits. Timerman says this can lead to harm.

“That’s especially true for recruits in a phase of their training where the academy is actively looking to wash out people,” said Timerman.

Timerman says he agrees with all nine recommendations in the report. That said, he has a few recommendations of his own.

“There isn’t any reference towards the lack of situational awareness of instructors there. Peyton started that training prop breathing, talking, being able to move on his own. By the time they realized he was in trouble, he had already been in cardiac arrest for quite some time,” he said.

Meanwhile, the state has consistently said throughout all the investigations into the fire academy that the safety of recruits is a priority.