Community honors fallen N.Y. firefighter with yellow hearts

LaFargeville businesses are showing support for the family of Peyton Lane S. Morse, who died following training at the state fire academy

Craig Fox
Watertown Daily Times, N.Y.

LAFARGEVILLE, N.Y. — Peyton Lane S. Morse's favorite color was yellow, and his mother made sure she had a clean T-shirt that color for him to wear to school every day.

So his art teacher at LaFargeville Central School, Maria Van Pelt, thought yellow hearts were the perfect way to show their love for the fallen Watertown firefighter and support for his family.

Now there are yellow hearts in windows all over LaFargeville. In almost every window in the school. In the town library where his mother works. In businesses and homes throughout the community.


There are yellow hearts in windows all over LaFargeville. In almost every window in the school. In the town library where Peyton Morse's mother works. In businesses and homes throughout the community.

Posted by Watertown Daily Times on Thursday, March 18, 2021

Mrs. Van Pelt came up with the idea. She credits colleague Melissa Eichhorn, who taught Mr. Morse in first grade, for cutting the first heart out of yellow paper and putting it up in a big window at her home. Family friend Peggy Gill made sure the yellow hearts went viral.

It's a community effort to show his family that everyone is there for them, they said.

"I just love how this community came to together to show how much we loved Peyton and the support we have for his family," Mrs. Van Pelt said.

They first considered making those American flags with thin red lines for firefighters, but the yellow hearts were more symbolic of the love they have for the 2017 LaFargeville graduate who was fulfilling his dreams.

The yellow hearts have ended up on municipal buildings and even on a vehicle in Florida with connections to LaFargeville, Mrs. Gill said.

Mr. Morse, who died Friday after suffering a medical emergency while training at the state fire academy on March 3, was about to embark on the career he considered his dream job as a Watertown firefighter.

"I knew he was going to be the man that he was going to be at age 7 and he did that," Mrs. Eichhorn said.

The three women remembered him as somebody both his peers and adults looked up to because of the way he treated people and would do anything for anybody.

"You hear about people like that, but Peyton was really like that," Mrs. Eichhorn said.

He was the kind of kid you wished your daughter would marry and the kind of teen your kids would emulate. Mrs. Eichhorn's two children probably were tired of hearing her say why couldn't they be like Mr. Morse, she said, adding that he'd be the mediator between two of his friends who were not getting along with each other.

Last spring, Mrs. Eichhorn asked him to help organize one of those COVID-19 drive-by birthdays for a community member he didn't know. She remembered how he jumped on it and made sure it happened. Just a few short months ago, she took part in a drive-by to celebrate his 21st birthday.

"He was extremely special," she said. "I would have done anything for him."

LaFargeville Central School District Superintendent Travis Hoover said everyone in the district seemed to look up to him. He always talked about becoming a firefighter, either with a career department or going out west to fight wildfires.

Just 21 years old and starting his life, he leaves a big void in the community, they said. He was the assistant chief of the LaFargeville Fire Department, involved in the Clayton Franciscan Mystery Players, a member of the Knights of Columbus and was involved with sports in school. He enjoyed hunting with his friends. He was engaged. He and his fiancee were married while he was fighting for his life in a Pennsylvania hospital.

Mrs. Gill's son, Rilee, and Mr. Morse grew up together, knowing each other since they were both 3 years old. Her sister, Jefferson County Sheriff Colleen M. O'Neill, and Mr. Morse's father, Dave, worked together for years as state troopers. His mother, Stacy, worked at the school district before becoming the town's head librarian.

The young firefighter's death has devastated the community, Mrs. Gill said.

"Simply, it's a profound loss," she said.

On March 3, Mr. Morse was taking part in a firefighter training program for recruits at the New York State Academy of Fire Science in Montour Falls, near Watkins Glen. He became unresponsive while completing a mask confidence exercise while wearing a self-contained breathing apparatus.

He was rushed to a local hospital, stabilized and then airlifted to Guthrie Robert Packer Hospital in Sayre, Pa., where he was in the intensive care unit for more than a week. On March 6, while still in the ICU, he was given his Watertown Fire Department badge — Badge #94.

Calling hours for Mr. Morse will be held from 2 to 6 p.m. Thursday at St. Mary's Catholic Church in Clayton. His funeral Mass will be celebrated at the church at 11 a.m. Friday.


(c)2021 Watertown Daily Times (Watertown, N.Y.)

[Read next: Grandfather, great-uncle of fallen NY firefighter picket academy where he was fatally injured]

McClatchy-Tribune News Service

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