Life On Hold For Ohio Lieutenant Hit by Lightning

Aug. 01--He was out there that day to help others.

Stu Tudor couldn't have known that in a flash, he'd be the one needing help.

The Columbus fire lieutenant was at Crew Stadium on June 28, helping to raise money for police officers and firefighters in need -- those injured in the line of duty and off.

Tudor, 54, had just finished volunteering at a charity soccer game with the nonprofit Get Behind the Badge when a bolt of lightning struck him and stopped his heart.

More than a month later, his prognosis is uncertain. Tudor has left the intensive-care unit at Ohio State University's Wexner Medical Center and has moved to a rehabilitation facility.

His family and friends are hesitant to talk about his health, in part because they just don't know. He can breathe on his own and can open his eyes, but there's not much else to report.

"He's stable and other than that, it's just waiting," said his girlfriend of three years, Lisa Watford.

They switch between present and past tense when talking about him, because the man they have right now is just a shadow of the gregarious guy they know.

"I miss everything about him," Watford said. "His voice, his touch, his laughter, his fun. ... I just want him back."

When Tudor's friends gathered to talk about him at Watford's home this week, there were lots of laughs and few tears, because that's what he is about.

In a firehouse where the daily goal is to "get someone to snap," Lt. David Williamson said, Tudor was a frequent target. He's a by-the-books guy, his colleagues said, so he didn't take kindly to getting snookered in card games or someone messing with his rules.

Even now, in a hospital bed, he's not immune from the firehouse ribbing.

"If the roles were reversed, I'd be disappointed if shots weren't taken at me," Williamson said.

But despite the laughter, there's a lot of uncertainty and fear. Tragedy is part of the job, but it's not supposed to seep into their own lives.

"They build walls around their hearts," said Theresa Williamson, David's wife. "They have to. When it happens to one of their own, it rocks them to their core. They're not supposed to be a victim."

Tudor had a day off on June 28, and his regular crew was working at Station 10 in Franklinton. They got the call about Tudor as he was being rushed to the hospital by other Columbus medics, who were working to restart his heart.

"Whenever there's a trauma arrest, that's never good. That's probably death," Lt. Williamson said. "When I walked into the hospital, I expected the worst news."

Fellow Firefighter Jason Reed was thrust into the role of family liaison. He had to hold it together, calling Watford to tell her to get to the hospital and keeping her updated.

"I didn't want to be emotional," he said. But this wasn't a regular work assignment.

"We live together every third day for 24 hours," Reed said.

The friends and fellow firefighters who welcomed Watford into the fold as Tudor's partner are now at her side as she waits and hopes for him to recover. Tudor's brother, Mark, comes from Cleveland to help as well.

Tudor has two adult children: a son, Chris Tudor, who lives in Florida, and a daughter, Kendyl Skinner, who is working to relocate with her husband back to Ohio from her home in Nashville, Tenn.

"It happened so quickly, I feel like we just want to be up there," Skinner said. "It's too hard to be far away."

Tudor had been a part of Get Behind the Badge for three years, after becoming a board member representing Franklin County firefighters.

In his years with the Fire Division, he'd seen firefighters killed and injured, and their families needing help.

"This is a good way of giving back to a brotherhood he's loved for so many years," said Andy Ward, the organization's president and a Columbus police officer.

In those early-morning hours after Tudor was struck, Ward started a support fund for his friend through Get Behind the Badge, which has been aiding first responders and their families for more than 10 years.

Ward and Tudor had a running joke between them -- "Why did God make firemen? So cops had heroes to look up to." So whenever Ward saw Tudor, he'd greet him with, "What's up, hero."

"It's one of those things you joke about and make fun of one another," Ward said. "But when it comes down to getting the job done, and when it's one of your own, you put everything aside for the brotherhood."

To donate to Stu Tudor and his family, visit www.getbehindthebadge.org or the International Association of Fire Fighters Local 67 website at www.local67.com.

amanning@dispatch.com

@allymanning

Copyright 2014 - The Columbus Dispatch, Ohio

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