The body of a veteran FDNY firefighter who was killed by a falling tree limb in North Carolina returned home to New York Tuesday night, ahead of the funeral and department ceremony.
A escort of first responders followed the body of Casey Skudin, as it made its way from a tarmac at Queens' LaGuardia Airport to a funeral home in Oceanside, where where Skudin’s fellow firefighters waited to salute the 45-year-old. He was killed when a tree limb fell onto the vehicle he was driving at the Biltmore Estate in Asheville, officials said.
For years, Skudin risked his life to help his fellow man. First as a lifeguard, then as a FDNY firefighter in Rockaway.
"It’s the hero’s welcome that a hero like Casey surely deserves," said Randy Eichin, Skudin's best friend.
Skudin's cousin, Ian Skudin, said he was someone "you just look up to, it's hard not to, right?"
But in cruel twist of fate – it wasn’t a fire or a rip current that took Skudin’s life. It would end up being a broken tree limb that fell onto the SUV that Skudin and his family were driving on Friday. The limb fell across a road at the entrance to the estate amid high winds.
Skudin and his family were on vacation to celebrate his 46th birthday and Father’s Day, which happened to fall on the same day. The falling tree limb crushed the car, killing Skudin and leaving his 10-year-old son hospitalized. His wife and their eldest son managed to get out safely.
"For it to turn so tragic on such a meaningful weekend is truly hard to digest," Eichin said.
Eichin hopped on a plane bound for Asheville to make sense of the freak accident and support Casey’s family. Flowers and a FDNY T-shirt now mark the spot where that tree limb once was.
"If one person was to go I know for sure, he’d say take me and please spare my family. A lifeguard, fireman. He would make that choice," Eichin said, fighting back tears.
Visitation services for Skudin are this Thursday, which will be followed by a FDNY ceremony on Friday. Skudin’s widow has asked that mourners not wear black on Thursday, saying she wants it to be a celebration of her husband’s vibrant life.
The surfing community in Long Beach is remembering him too, as Skudin was a longtime surfer and outdoorsman who earned a medal years ago for rescuing a drowning surfer. On Sunday morning, there will be a memorial paddle out for Skudin at Lido West Beach.