Parents Sue NY State Over Training Academy Death

The parents of a firefighter who died while training at the New York State Academy of Fire Science, have filed suit alleging negligence and recklessness. Peyton L.S. Morse, a recruit with the Watertown Fire Department, died after suffering a medical emergency while in engaged in a training evolution. The incident occurred at the Montour Falls facility on March 3, 2021.

According to WWNY, when instructors realized Morse was in distress, the closest ambulance was 15 minutes away. CPR was initiated by personnel on-scene and he was transported to a hospital on a state bus. Morse was left in a coma until he passed away on March 12, 2021.

Recall last November, a Schuyler County grand jury refused to indict anyone for Morse’s death. In addition, New York’s OHSA agency, Public Employee Safety and Health Bureau (PESH), declined to issue any citations over the incident.

Quoting from the complaint:

  • The Defendant, the State of New York, owed … Peyton L.S. Morse, a duty to provide training that did not involve unreasonable risk of injury or death.
  • Defendant, the State of New York, through its instructors, trainers, agents, servants and/or employees… was under a duty to exercise appropriate and reasonable care to protect … Peyton L.S. Morse during the course of training at the New York State Academy of Fire Science.
  • Upon information and belief, such aforementioned training exercises and evolution(s) required… Peyton L.S. Morse, to crawl through a wooden box meant to represent a confined space.
  • During the aforesaid training exercises and evolution(s), … Peyton L.S. Morse complained of shortness of breath and inability to breathe.
  • Said complaints were made to one or more of the instructors present.
  • Peyton L.S. Morse, expressed such distress to instructors at the New York State Academy of Fire Science who were present, said complaints should have been heard by one or more of the instructors present.
  • Despite his complaints… Peyton L.S. Morse, was compelled by one or more of said instructors to continue the training exercise and evolution.
  • Said instructors… ignored… Peyton L.S. Morse’s complaints of shortness of breath and inability to breathe.
  • Said instructors…  failed to immediately assess … Peyton L.S. Morse, despite his complaints of shortness of breath and inability to breathe.
  • The Defendant, the State of New York, through its instructors, trainers, agents, servants and/or employees, including, failed to provide proper and safe training to… Peyton L.S. Morse.
  • On the aforesaid date, time and place the Defendant, the State of New York, by and through its instructor, agents, servants and/or employees… breached their aforementioned duty to Peyton L.S. Morse, resulting in Claimants’ Decedent suffering certain severe and permanent injuries.
  • As a result of the foregoing failures, as set forth herein, … Peyton L.S. Morse, suffered a major medical and/or cardiac event, resulting in certain catastrophic and permanent injuries.
  • The aforementioned injuries were caused by the Defendant, the State of New York, through its instructors, trainers, agents, servants and/or employees… which breached its aforementioned duties by negligently and carelessly failing to provide safe training; failing to provide proper instruction; failing to properly supervise its instructors, trainers, agents, servants and/or employees; failing to provide a safe and appropriate environment for training; failing to provide safe and appropriate equipment for training; failing to properly observe and monitor the Claimants’ Decedent during the training exercise(s) and evolution(s); failing to properly assess and monitor the well-being of recruits, and in particular, Peyton L.S. Morse; ignoring the Claimants’ Decedent’s complaints; ignoring the Claimants’ Decedent’s pleas for help; denying the requests of the Claimants’ Decedent to exit the training evolution due to severe respiratory distress; failing to appreciate the Claimants’ Decedent’s serious medical condition; failing to immediately evacuate the Claimants’ and treatment; failing to immediately provide medical personnel at the training; failing to provide adequate and necessary medical equipment at the training; failing to properly train and instruct personnel present on emergency life saving measures; failing to ensure an Automated External Defibrillator (AED) was present; and the Defendant, the State of New York, was in other ways negligent and careless.
  • As a direct and proximate result of the aforesaid negligence, carelessness, and breach of duty… Peyton L.S. Morse, was caused to sustain certain serious and catastrophic personal injuries, including but not limited to, severe and excruciating conscious pain and suffering, fear, difficulty breathing, respiratory distress, anoxia, prolonged period of in patient hospitalization, and death.
  • Pursuant to the doctrine of respondeat superior, the Defendant, the State of New York, is vicariously liable and responsible for the negligent acts, omissions and/or conduct of its personnel, agents, servants, employees and/or instructors.

The suit was filed last month in the New York Court of Claims. While there were numerous news reports about the suit over the past few weeks, it was not showing up in repeated searches. However, I was able to obtain a copy of the complaint today. Attached is a copy. Be forewarned, it is written in academic legalese and is a very tough read. Do not operate heavy machinery after reading:

About Curt Varone

Curt Varone has over 45 years of fire service experience and 35 as a practicing attorney licensed in both Rhode Island and Maine. His background includes 29 years as a career firefighter in Providence (retiring as a Deputy Assistant Chief), as well as volunteer and paid on call experience. He is the author of two books: Legal Considerations for Fire and Emergency Services, (2006, 2nd ed. 2011, 3rd ed. 2014, 4th ed. 2022) and Fire Officer's Legal Handbook (2007), and is a contributing editor for Firehouse Magazine writing the Fire Law column.
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