‘Hard to watch’: Recruits say instructors yelled at Morse while he lay unconscious

A state investigation revealed troubling details about the events surrounding the death of Firefighter Peyton Morse


By Rachel Engel

WATERTOWN, N.Y. — Shocking details have emerged in the case of Peyton Morse, a Watertown firefighter who became unconscious while training at the state’s fire academy.

Morse, 21, a volunteer firefighter who had served as assistant chief of the LaFargeville Fire Department, reportedly suffered a medical emergency at the academy on March 3, 2021, and was taken to a nearby hospital, where he died nine days later.

Morse, 21, a volunteer firefighter and who had served as assistant chief of the LaFargeville Fire Department, reportedly suffered a medical emergency at the academy on March 3, 2021, and was taken to a nearby hospital, where he died nine days later.
Morse, 21, a volunteer firefighter and who had served as assistant chief of the LaFargeville Fire Department, reportedly suffered a medical emergency at the academy on March 3, 2021, and was taken to a nearby hospital, where he died nine days later. (Photo/Morse Family)

Fire recruits who witnessed the incident said instructors were leaning over Morse, yelling at him, asking if he was quitting while he was unconscious, NYTV 7 News reported.

A copy of the state’s investigation, obtained by 7 News through a Freedom of Information Act request, stated that Morse had to be pulled out part-way through the “box obstacle,” and that he was unconscious and turning blue.

Recruits on the scene told investigators they heard Morse say he couldn’t breathe, but instructors have denied ever hearing him say that.

[Read next: Respond to ‘I can’t breathe’ like it’s a mayday, because it is]

“At no time did I believe, or have reason to believe, that he was not breathing or breathing adequately,” one official reportedly told investigators.

Statements by recruits who witnessed the incident paint a different picture:

“His body was limp and he was not talking. Instructors were yelling at him at the top of their lungs and were asking him if he was quitting. After some time, they realized he wasn’t breathing,” one recruit said.

“It was hard to watch these instructors yelling at a recruit as he is not breathing. One of the worst things I have seen in my life,” another said.

“Peyton had been struggling for 8-10 minutes. He stated, ‘I cannot breathe.’ He was not taken seriously,” a third said.

One recruit directly blamed those in charge of the state academy for what happened to Morse.

“The entire point of me coming here, the entire reason my department is paying for me to be here is to learn how to be a firefighter. I am not here to be treated like sh**. Yelling at students at the top of their lungs and pushing them to the brink is an environment that is not conducive to learning,” the recruit said. “In three short weeks we have sent four people to the hospital, one of which in cardiac arrest. The administration of this academy should be ashamed.”

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