Pete Chepulis

Pete Chepulis, who was killed in the Middletown explosion. (COURTESY OF THE CHEPULIS FAMILY)

On the job, Peter Chepulis was regarded as a leader who put others before himself.

The 48-year-old, who worked in construction for years, most recently as a pipe fitter, was keen on looking out for the safety of his colleagues, friends said. Chepulis was one of five men killed in a deadly explosion at the Kleen Energy power plant in Middletown Sunday.

"If he were here, he would have been the first one to go up [to Middletown] and help out," Chris Smith, a longtime friend, said Monday. "He was always the guy making sure everyone else was safe."

Standing about 6 feet 2 and with a kind disposition, he was dubbed "the gentle giant" by friends. "Pete was probably the largest, gentlest guy you've ever met in your life. The best way I could describe him is a gentle giant. His heart was as big as his body," said Thomas Royer, a friend of 20 years.

Outside of work, Chepulis loved to hunt birds and ride his Harley-Davidson motorcycles, even in cooler weather. He was a longtime member of the Thomaston Fish and Game Club, and built the home he shared with his wife.

His sense of humor set him apart from others at a construction site, Smith recalled. Chepulis would sometimes turn up for a job wearing a pink construction hat.

"He was just a happy-go-lucky guy, always joking and kidding around," Smith said.

In his spare time, Chepulis would compete in ax-chopping and ax-throwing competitions at state fairs. But he never came across as too intimidating, friends pointed out, because he would show up in a Hawaiian shirt.

"He loved people. He was just one of the nicest, purest people I've ever met in my life," Royer said. "The world is a lot darker place without him."

Chepulis is survived by his wife and stepdaughter.