The city of Watertown (NY) will conduct its own investigation into what caused the death of city firefighter Peyton Lane S. Morse following an incident at the state’s fire academy in early March. The city has retained a private investigative firm, AMRIC Associates Ltd., Syracuse, to conduct the investigation into what happened when the young firefighter became unresponsive while training at the New York State Academy of Fire Science on March 3. Nine days later, Mr. Morse died at a Pennsylvania hospital.
A Pennsylvania coroner has not yet determined the cause and manner of his death. “We want to find out what happened and what caused it,” City Manager Kenneth A. Mix said Wednesday. Depending on the findings, the city might file a claim against the fire academy if the private investigators determine the academy was at fault, Mr. Mix said.
“It’s a possibility,” he said.
Under Workman’s Compensation insurance benefits, the city would be liable for a series of medical and other expenses, City Attorney Robert J. Slye said last week.
Depending on the cause of death, it’s the city’s responsibility to try to recover those expenses to protect taxpayers, he said, declining to comment further so as not to interfere with the investigation. In business since 1994, AMRIC Associates is a professional investigative agency that provides investigations to the insurance and legal communities. The city has retained the firm in the past for an investigation into a personnel matter, Mr. Mix said.
Firefighter Morse, 21, died on March 12, nine days after suffering a medical emergency while training at the state fire academy in Montour Falls, near Watkins Glen.
The New York State Police in Horseheads, near Elmira in the Southern Tier, are also investigating the circumstances of the young firefighter’s death. They are not commenting, citing it’s an ongoing investigation.
The Public Employee Safety and Health Bureau, or PESH, has also started its investigation into what happened, but the agency declined to comment. The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, or NIOSH, is also investigating the incident.
Firefighter Morse, who was in his fifth week of training, was found unresponsive while completing a mask confidence training exercise with a self-contained breathing apparatus. Alarms on the self-contained breathing apparatus went off before the firefighter was found not breathing and with no oxygen remaining in the air pack.
On the day of the incident, 39 trainees were participating in mask confidence exercises in the state academy’s gymnasium, located in a converted garage at a former monastery in Schuyler County. They were simultaneously going through different “evolutions” or stations that were set up in the gym when Morse became unresponsive.
The young firefighter was inside a long tunnel made of plywood while wearing an air pack and a mask covered with tape when the incident occurred, Mr. Mix said. Morse was going through the tunnel that simulates what a firefighter would experience during a fire, he said.
The tunnel has been described as a collapsed building station, which contains PCB piping, wiring and copper piping to act as obstacles to make it more difficult to get through. Instructors press firefighters to work their way out of the situation.
During mask confidence training week, recruits trained on pieces of equipment — known as “props” — that included going through a maze and maneuvering through a corrugated draining pipe and the plywood tunnel. At least a couple instructors typically supervise each prop, former city Fire Chief Dale C. Herman said.
After the incident, some Rochester area fire departments pulled their recruits, citing their concerns about the circumstances of Morse’s death.
Since it happened, the firefighter’s grandfather, Ronald Morse, and great-uncle Stan Morse, picketed in front of the fire academy, demanding answers. They’ve blamed instructors for his death. His uncle is calling for all the instructors at the state academy to be fired and the facility closed.
City Fire Chief Matthew Timerman has also called for a thorough investigation into what happened.
Last week, Bradford County (PA) Coroner Thomas M. Carman said he estimates it will be around mid-April when pathology, toxicology and microscopic results come back before a cause of death can be determined. Those tests would be turned over to the New York State Police for its investigation.
INFORMATION FROM: https://www.nny360.com/news/jeffersoncounty/watertown-will-conduct-investigation-into-city-firefighter-s-death/article_dc19b818-16ea-56cf-95a5-ed910ed5713b.html