N.Y. community remembers FF Peyton Morse nearly a year after death
The 21-year-old had a medical emergency at the New York State Academy of Fire Science; his parents expressed gratitude for support but say they still want justice
Watertown Daily Times, N.Y.
LAFARGEVILLE, N.Y. — Family friend Peggy Gill watched her son and fallen Watertown city firefighter Peyton L.S. Morse share their lives growing up.
Mrs. Gill remembered Peyton's blond hair and blue eyes when he was just 3 years old going to preschool.
From there, Peyton and her son, Rilee, shared memories and milestones together, she told about 150 friends and community members who came together Saturday to remember the firefighter as the first anniversary of his death approaches.
"Peyton spent a lifetime with our family," Mrs. Gill said.
The two boys were together on their first day of kindergarten. They were sixth-grade classmates, celebrated first Holy Communion, attended school dances, had girlfriends, got their licenses and went to the senior prom. They graduated from LaFargeville Central School together in 2017.
The 21-year-old firefighter had a medical emergency on March 3 at the New York State Academy of Fire Science in Montour Falls, near Watkins Glen. He died nine days later in a Sayre, Pa., hospital.
On Saturday, Peyton's family — parents David M. and Stacy L. and brother Parker S. Morse — thanked the community for its support and prayers during the past year.
The emotional memorial was held in the LaFargeville Central School auditorium to celebrate his life, and to inform community members about what has happened since his death, his family said.
Mrs. Morse credited the community for helping them cope with their enormous grief.
There have been moments that have picked them up just as they were suffering low points, Mr. Morse said.
When Mrs. Morse came home from work recently, Mr. Morse warned that she should sit down before reading a letter that the family had received.
It was from a 42-year-old man who had spent most of the past six years in the hospital. Through parts of the COVID-19 pandemic, he had barely seen his wife and child because of the health risks. The letter began with his condolences for the Morses' loss.
"Your son gave me my life," the 42-year-old man wrote, adding that Peyton "gave me a second chance."
When he got his driver's license, Peyton checked off the box that he wanted to be an organ donor, his father recalled.
Peyton had donated his liver to the man, who's doing well nearly a year later and is back with his family.
While Mrs. Morse acknowledged Peyton's decision to donate his organs made her feel a bit uncomfortable at the time, it showed that "he chose to be a good human."
Her son had a knack for saying or doing that perfect little thing for a friend during seemingly unimportant moments. But somehow they made a difference in their lives, she said.
Even when he might have disagreed with a friend about an issue, Peyton "always had their back," Mrs. Gill said.
Public service was Peyton's calling, his father said.
His son served as a volunteer in the LaFargeville Fire Department while still in high school. Then while attending Sienna College, near Albany, he joined the Shaker Road-Loudonville Fire Department.
He then got his dream job with the Watertown Fire Department, his father said.
Peyton would have continued to serve his community for another 50 or 60 years, his father said.
Thanks to the caring community, Peyton is still leaving a legacy that will help others for years to come.
Through the sale of T-shirts and sweatshirts and donations, the family has raised more than $100,000 since Peyton's death. All of it will go back into the community, Mr. Morse said.
Every year, his alma mater will give a monetary gift to a graduating student who best exemplifies Peyton's character. It's not a scholarship, he said, adamantly.
Fire departments in need of equipment or training and community organizations can apply for grants. Funds will also be set aside for community members in need of help.
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On March 10, it will be one year since Peyton died. His parents continue to seek information about what happened to their son. They believe his death could have been prevented.
State leaders have not acknowledged his death or given him the respect that he deserves, they said. They've ignored requests to meet or talk to them.
Watertown Fire Chief Matthew R. Timerman has accused the state of having to be forced to investigate the incident.
At the end of the 90-minute memorial, Mr. Morse told the community that the family will get justice for their son "one way or another."
The community responded with a standing ovation.
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