Watertown Daily Times, N.Y.
Sep. 19—WATERTOWN — The Schuyler County District Attorney is getting assistance from a state police violent crimes unit to help him investigate the death of city firefighter Peyton L.S. Morse.
District Attorney Joseph G. Fazzary has confirmed that he requested and state police leaders granted assistance from additional investigators to look into the firefighter’s death.
Mr. Morse, 21, who was in his third week of training, had a medical emergency while training at the state Academy of Fire Science on March 3. He died nine days later.
The violent crimes unit with Troop E, based in Canandaigua, investigates assaults, homicides and other serious crimes.
A state police investigator from the Horseheads station, who works out of an office at the state fire academy, has been investigating what happened to Mr. Morse.
Mr. Fazzary, whose office consists of three assistant prosecutors and no investigators, said he needed additional help in the investigation.
“There are some questions that I need answers,” he said.
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Mr. Morse’s parents, David and Stacy Morse, have been frustrated with the investigation, contending there was a rush to judgment that Mr. Morse died of a health problem.
They are pleased that the investigation is taking a new direction, adding that they think Mr. Fazzari will conduct a thorough investigation into their son’s death.
“We’re thrilled,” Mrs. Morse said.
Mr. Morse’s medical emergency happened while he was using a Self Contained Breathing Apparatus — or SCBA — during training. It’s been determined that the breathing apparatus was in proper working order.
The Bradford County Coroner’s Office determined the cause of death was an anoxic brain injury, or lack of oxygen to the brain, cardiac arrest and consequences of physical exertion while using the breathing apparatus.
Doctors who treated Mr. Morse at a Sayre, Pa., hospital told them he had a healthy heart and lungs and he had no health problems. The autopsy also cleared Mr. Morse of any heart problems, his parents said.
They believe that something “external” was the cause of his death.
He was so healthy that his organs were donated to a number of people who needed them and are alive today, they said.
Mr. Fazzary said he has met with Mr. and Mrs. Morse and Watertown Fire Chief Matthew Timerman “at length” about the investigation.
Mr. Fazzary said he doesn’t know whether the original investigator, Jason Wood, is remaining on the case. Mr. Fazzary said he has worked with the investigator on many cases over the years.
It was “higher echelon” in the state police who granted his request for additional investigators, the district attorney said.
He thinks they will complete the investigation “as soon as possible.”
The prosecutor noted that there were a number of witnesses at the fire academy who saw what happened, including other recruits, academy instructors and fire chiefs from across the state who were there.
The fact that other state agencies are also looking into what happened could potentially complicate his probe.
“It will not necessarily be helpful,” he said.
At this point, the Public Employee Safety and Health Bureau and the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health are already conducting separate investigations.
Two local state lawmakers have requested that the state Office of Fire Prevention and Control, or OFPC, also complete an internal investigation. OFPC runs the academy.
PESH is a state agency that gives occupational safety and health protection to public sector employees, while NIOSH is looking at how to prevent such an incident from happening again.
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