Peyton Morse's name will be unveiled on national wall for fallen firefighters

Oct. 8—WATERTOWN — The parents of Peyton L.S. Morse will always remember the last family vacation they went on with their son.

Just by happenstance during a trip to Gettysburg, the fallen Watertown firefighter saw a sign for the National Fallen Firefighters Memorial in Emmitsburg, Maryland.

Peyton, then 19 and a member of the LaFargeville Fire Department, had to see it. He urged his parents, David M. and Stacy L. Morse, to visit the memorial dedicated to firefighters who died in the line of duty.

The visit had a profound effect on the young firefighter, his mother said.

This weekend, his parents are returning to the memorial to honor their son when his name will go up on the wall, joining other firefighters who died while on the job.

It will be a difficult weekend with lingering memories of that family trip and what might have been for their son.

"The closer it gets, the more I don't want to go," Mr. Morse said earlier this week.

In March 2021, Peyton was training at the New York State Academy of Fire Science in Montour Falls, near Watkins Glen, when he suffered a medical emergency. He was taken to a hospital in Sayre, Pennsylvania., where he died nine days later. He was 21.

This is the 41st year the National Fallen Firefighters Foundation is holding the official national tribute to all firefighters who died in the line of duty this past year.

Fire Hero Families, like Mr. and Mrs. Morse, will be among the thousands of people who will be there this weekend when Peyton and 147 firefighters will be honored at the memorial on the campus of the National Emergency Training Center.

At the heart of the park, the National Fallen Firefighters Monument features a striking stone monument, encircled by plaques listing the names of all members of the fire service who have died in the line of duty since 1981. Peyton's name has been etched on a brass plaque and will be unveiled on Sunday.

Considered hallowed ground, Memorial Park also includes the 9/11 Memorial Plaza, which honors all first responders who died in the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.

During that trip to Gettysburg on July 30, 2018, Peyton and his family were headed to the National Shrine of Saint Elizabeth Ann Seton when they came across a sign for the National Fallen Firefighters Memorial.

The young firefighter and former altar boy had an immediate reaction, asking his father twice if they could stop to see the firefighters memorial.

Mr. Morse was quick to decide they would go — if they were allowed on the property — and see the wall since his son made it obvious it meant so much to him, he recalled.

"I don't know, buddy," the father answered, not knowing they would be allowed to enter the Federal Emergency Management Agency site without security clearance.

They managed to get permission for the visit and were told they could not venture from the memorial site onto the rest of the FEMA property, Mrs. Morse recalled.

During their visit, they took a photo of Peyton in front of the monument. Tears were running down his cheeks but he then smiled, his mother recalled.

The family knew nothing about the fallen firefighters' memorial until they saw that sign on the side of the road. But Peyton was immediately drawn to it that day.

And now their son's name will be unveiled on the wall on Sunday.

Fire Chief Matthew R. Timerman, Deputy Chief Michael D. Kellogg and five Watertown city firefighters also will be there this weekend.

It will be a sad, solemn weekend for Peyton's parents and for himself, the fire chief said. While it's an honor the young firefighter deserves, it "feels like we're just attending another funeral for Peyton."

"It's going to be a long weekend," he said.

While they appreciate the honor to their son, their loss is something a parent should never go through, they said.

During the weekend, they will be attending several events.

Saturday is Family Day during the weekend. Activities include small group sessions to talk about the loss of a family member, family activities, a vigil in the National Fallen Firefighters Memorial Chapel and a candlelight service that ends the day.

The five Watertown city firefighters are attending the events as an honor guard.

They are captains Christopher Joseph and Rich Little and firefighters Jason Patchen, Charles Crosby and Matt Fitzgerald, who was a member of the training class with Peyton at the fire academy when he died.

As an honor guard, they will present a folded American flag to Peyton's parents after his plaque is unveiled.

After more than 19 months since his death, Mr. and Mrs. Morse have not been able to start mourning their son's death.

They said they cannot grieve until the state fire academy is held accountable for what happened to him. They believe his death was preventable and academy instructors caused his death.

They also continue to be angry that the state has not acknowledged Peyton's death after reaching out countless times to Gov. Kathleen C. Hochul and state fire officials. They haven't heard a word from them. They haven't received condolences for Peyton's death.

They are awaiting the results of a grand jury investigation in Schuyler County looking into his death.

They hope to hear that the investigation will conclude by the end of the month after taking testimony from possibly dozens of witnesses, Mrs. Morse said.

But she and her husband have found a way to keep their son's legacy alive by forming the Peyton Lane S. Morse Legacy Foundation.

Earlier this week, Mr. and Mrs. Morse thanked the community for its continued support for the foundation, a charitable organization that raises money for grants to LaFargeville High School students; families going through a medical crisis; first responder agencies and fire departments; and nonprofit organizations.

On Tuesday, they received a $6,500 check from Coyote Moon Vineyards for its 11th annual Classic Cars & Classic Wines Show in July.

It was a much-needed day of classic cars, music, friends and the community, Mr. Morse said. Firefighters from across the state also attended the event.

"It was a good day," he said.

The vineyard decided the proceeds would go to the foundation.

The vineyard thanked the volunteers who came out to help put on the event.

His parents see the foundation and events like the classic car show as a way for Peyton to leave a legacy that will help others for many years to come.

The foundation's committee is made up of Mr. and Mrs. Morse; Peyton's brother, Parker; Celeste Oppito, Peyton's fiance; and Chief Timerman.