Feb. 16—WATERTOWN — The parents of Watertown firefighter Peyton L.S. Morse have filed a lawsuit against the state over the 2021 death of their son.
The 21-year-old Watertown firefighter had a medical emergency on March 3, 2021, at the New York State Academy of Fire Science in Montour Falls, near Watkins Glen. He died nine days later in a Pennsylvania hospital.
His parents, David M. and Stacy L. Morse, blame the academy for his death.
Their attorney, Thomas J. DiNovo, an attorney with the Albany law firm of O’Connell & Aronowitz, filed court papers in the state Court of Claims on Jan. 24, alleging that Peyton suffered “severe and excruciating conscious pain and suffering” before he died as a result of his training at the fire academy.
The lawsuit only names the state of New York as the defendant, saying that it “negligently and carelessly” failed to provide safe training and failed to realize what was happening to him during the training exercise.
The lawsuit doesn’t set a specified amount of money, although his parents have always said that they are seeking justice for their son.
According to the lawsuit, Mr. and Mrs. Morse “have suffered substantial pecuniary loss and other damages” and are seeking “a substantial amount of money” from the state in damages.
Their son’s emergency happened after he complained that he could not breathe while he was going through a plywood tunnel — called the “box” — that simulates what a firefighter could experience during a fire. On that day, he used six air cylinders of his breathing apparatus before having the medical emergency.
They believe that instructors were negligent and could have prevented their son’s death. According to the suit, instructors waited too long to come to Peyton’s aid after he called for help, indicating that he could not breathe while inside a training apparatus, a plywood box that simulated what it’s like to be in a fire.
The Morses have been critical of a 2021 state report that found no blame in their son’s death, despite statements by three fellow recruits who heard him say he could not breath.
The court papers spell out how the Morses blame the state, its Division of Homeland Security, Office of Fire Prevention and Control and at least four instructors for Peyton’s death.
The court papers identify the four instructors as Warren T. Ward, Christopher Rea, Bruce E. Heberer and Scott P. Deninno who were there when Peyton suffered the medical emergency.
According to the lawsuit, the state failed to “provide reasonably safe equipment for recruits” and had “a duty to provide training that did not involve unreasonable risk of injury or death.”
When he had the medical emergency, the state failed to get him immediate medical care, medical personnel at the fire academy, provide adequate and necessary medical equipment and instruct academy personnel in emergency life saving training.
An ambulance was not at the fire academy at the time of the medical emergency.
The city also plans to file a lawsuit against the state in the firefighter’s death.
The state Attorney General will represent the state in the lawsuit.
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