Mar. 19—LAFARGEVILLE — Rachel E. Davis, a close friend of the LaFargeville assistant fire chief who died in the line of duty roughly two weeks ago, wonders where his mother found the strength to eulogize her son Friday.
"The way she was strong enough to see any positive outcomes from this tragedy is inspiring," said Ms. Davis, a close friend of Peyton Lane S. Morse, the assistant chief in LaFargeville and newly inducted Watertown firefighter who died last week after having suffered a medical emergency while at the state fire academy.
Hundreds of firefighters from across the state converged on the village of Clayton for Mr. Morse's funeral Friday morning. The 21-year-old died last week after suffering a medical emergency March 3 while in the recruit firefighter training program at the New York State Academy of Fire Science at Montour Falls, near Watkins Glen.
The Emerald Society Pipes and Drums band from the New York City Fire Department played "Amazing Grace." The service included readings from scripture, a eulogy from Watertown Fire Chief Matthew Timerman and another from Mr. Morse's best friend Ethan Johnson, but it all seemed like a crescendo to the moment Stacy L. Snyder-Morse, Mr. Morse's mother, began to speak. Back in the loyal community of LaFargeville, a group of roughly 100 watched it all live in the auditorium at LaFargeville Central School.
"He had a heart of gold," said Gavin Lombardo, who worked with Mr. Morse. "He was the nicest person I've ever met."
Mr. Lombardo was sitting in the auditorium alongside his girlfriend, Lauryn Davis, who said people talking about Mr. Morse's level of character and kindness is nothing new.
"It's not even people just saying that because he passed away," she said. "He was genuinely an amazing person."
Patty Sourwine, who is close with the entire Morse family, was also at the auditorium Friday morning.
"He's the boy you'd like your daughter to marry," Mrs. Sourwine said.
Connie Johnston, also a close friend of the family, said she believes any money raised for Mr. Morse would go toward scholarships.
"I believe his parents will do wonderful things with it," Mrs. Johnston said. "They're not going to go to Hawaii with it."
Above all, most wanted to see a vigilant and thorough investigation into the circumstances of Mr. Morse's death. Melissa Rohr, a firefighter in LaFargeville, said that while Mr. Morse was known as a Watertown firefighter, he got his start at her department. He worked his way up to third in command, and he was all but a shoe-in for the chief's position one day.
"I feel there was injustice," Mrs. Rohr said. "To be honest, when us firefighters go for training, we expect our instructors to protect us. Yes, we know we're going to have to push our bodies to a certain limit, but overall, we expect them to keep us safe and I feel that they failed Peyton."
They all began watching the funeral together in the auditorium Friday. Mr. Morse's mother began captivating the room with a eulogy that made people at ease, cry or laugh.
"She brought people peace even though she's a mess," Ms. Davis said. "It says a lot about where Peyton got all of his qualities from."
She talked about how her son followed a strict moral compass. Even in fifth grade, she said, Mr. Morse was asked by a teacher to write a letter explaining why he deserved one of the last tickets to a show in Syracuse some other students were attending. Mr. Morse wrote a letter, but asked that his brother, Parker, go instead.
She thanked the fire departments, state police and community for the support over the last two weeks. She talked about how nurses would pray at Mr. Morse's bedside while he was in the intensive care unit at a hospital in Sayre, Penn., for nine days.
Then she alluded to the state of the country and how divided it seems to have become. By the end of her speech, she brought it up again, but this time in the tone of what she had seen after her son died.
"People are coming back together. That may be what Peyton was supposed to do. Don't get me wrong, I'm really upset about the situation," Mrs. Morse said, getting a room full of laughs in return.
Ms. Davis said she grew up with Mr. Morse in LaFargeville. They had bonfires together and went to the homecoming dance together. She's almost 20 years old now and was at school in Syracuse when she heard what had happened to a close friend she hadn't spoken with in a while.
As crushing and alienating it was to be given news like that around people who don't know the impact Mr. Morse had on his community, she still said she's not ready to point fingers. She knows people are angry about the circumstance. She's angry, too, but more so because he's gone.
She said her discussions with friends of Mr. Morse haven't been about what happened at the training facility; they have been about the life he lived and the love he shared with others, she said.
"I don't think anyone's goal was to cause anyone pain," she said. "I'm just trying to think about the good times we had and not how it ended."
Ms. Davis said she, too, is watching people come together more in the wake of her friend's death.
"Being able to be with this many people has been comfortable in a way," she said. "This day has been a reminder that life is very short, that we need to reach out to people and come together. So many things don't matter and a day like today makes you realize what does."