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Widow Donates $20,000 to Conn. Fire Department

COLCHESTER, Conn. -- For 38 years, Charles Probus climbed sky-high cranes for a living, building them piece by piece and checking them for safety problems, a risky job that made his wife worry when he traveled in order to work on a crane somewhere across the country.

She never worried when he was at their country home on Taylor Road in a rural section of Colchester, Conn. But on July 28, Arlene Probus came home after visiting her ailing sister to find that her husband had been killed in a bizarre accident when he was thrown from his backhoe after it was struck by a trailer being pulled by a pickup truck in front of his house.

Recently, Probus turned her loss into the town's gain by donating $20,000 to the Colchester Hayward Volunteer Fire Department toward safety equipment that will train hundreds of residents to use a fire extinguisher.

The $8,000 training simulator uses a clean-burning propane flame that responds automatically to a specialized training extinguisher, discharging only compressed air and water.

That eliminates exposure to the smoke and burns from training on real extinguishers, fire officials said.

The rest of the money will be used to purchase thermal imaging equipment, Colchester Hayward Fire Chief Walter Cox said.

"I know I can't have my husband back, but if I could do one small thing that will help someone else, I want to do that," Arlene Probus, 60, said Monday.

She knew that firefighters and emergency medical technicians from the fire department responded to help her husband, who died almost instantly from blunt trauma and a ruptured abdominal aorta on that day.

And she discovered that his father had been a Hartford firefighter.

The accident remains under investigation. Charles Probus had been on the tractor, working to pave their driveway because family was coming over after a memorial for Arlene Probus' mother, who died the week before at age 90.

"When all was said and done, my husband and I didn't have children," Probus said. "And I wanted to do something in his memory because no one else would do this."

For the fire department, her donation will mean training 200 to 300 people a year, including school and nursing home employees and emergency medical personnel, to use fire extinguishers, Cox said.

It may seem silly to have to train people to use a fire extinguisher, but studies show that only about 1 percent of the U.S. population has been trained in their proper use.

Those who are trained are 250 percent more effective when using an extinguisher, said Lori Gicewicz, director of marketing for BullEx Digital Safety, an Albany company that sells the training equipment.

"It teaches the user to be confident in what they are doing and to knock down the fire in the early stages," Cox said.

Cox said Probus' donation was "quite outstanding," adding that "we've never had a situation like that."

Probus continues to donate to the community in memory of her husband, giving a donation to the Cragin Memorial Library. She also plans to give one annually for a high school student.

"I have nothing but spectacular memories," Probus said of her husband. "He would want me to be positive. He had a heart of gold. He would do anything for anyone he could, so why shouldn't I?"

Contact Tracy Gordon Fox at tfox@courant.com

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