WATERTOWN — Fire Chief Matthew Timerman went down to see how Peyton Morse and a fellow recruit were doing with training at the New York State Academy of Fire Science on March 3.
He gave words of encouragement to Mr. Morse, wished the young recruit well and told him he’d see him back in Watertown over the weekend.
He and the small contingent of city firefighters left the academy at about 12:30 p.m. after the visit that day.
It was the last time the chief saw Mr. Morse alive.
Less than two hours later, Chief Timerman got a call from an academy instructor who told him that the recruit that he had known all of the young man’s life was in distress, suffering from a medical emergency.
In disbelief, he had the instructor repeat what was happening at that very moment.
“Are you sure it’s him? Is it another kid?” he said to the instructor. “I just left him.”
Mr. Morse, 21, was rushed to a local hospital from the fire academy in Montour Falls, near Watkins Glen, before he was airlifted to a medical center in Sayre, Pa., where he died on March 12. The fire chief was among family members, friends and firefighters at his bedside when he lost his nine-day battle.
That’s now five weeks ago. It’s hard for the chief to believe the fallen firefighter died in the line of duty.
His turnout gear sits in a box in Chief Timerman’s office in the Massey Street fire station, as well as some uniform shirts that Mr. Morse ordered but will never wear. A wooden plaque and a metal Maltese Cross that a local welding company made are prominently displayed in the chief’s office. They are constant reminders of the young firefighter’s death.
Since it happened, Chief Timerman says some days are tougher than others.
Every day he goes into work, the chief looks over at a memorial that was created outside the fire station’s entrance three years ago honoring the eight previous city firefighters who have died on the job. The black granite stone memorial includes the words of Father Mychal Judge, chaplain of the New York City Fire Department, who was the first victim identified during the terrorist attacks on 9/11.
During the chaplain’s last homily to firefighters before he died, Father Judge told them “You put one foot in front of another. You get on the rig and you go out and you do the job.”
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