The buzz of a chainsaw filled the air. A branch collapsed, followed by another one. Firefighters lined up to carry these clippings to the heaping piles of weeds, branches and other organic waste at …
The buzz of a chainsaw filled the air. A branch collapsed, followed by another one. Firefighters lined up to carry these clippings to the heaping piles of weeds, branches and other organic waste at the front of the lot.
Over the course of a few hours on the morning of May 4, a group of 50 off duty firefighters from the Warwick Fire Department gathered on Oak Tree Ave, volunteering their time to transform the yard and house for veteran and homeowner William Moquin. Last year, Moquin was summoned to municipal court because of minimum housing violations. Thanks to the help of the firefighters, Moquin said it is unlikely that he’ll be pulled back into court.
Jackie Alger said that working as a constable “brings me to doors like this all the time.” Upon visiting Moquin’s home for the first time, she realized that this case was different from others she had witnessed in her 15 years of experience.
Moquin’s frustration may have also had something to do with it. He said he was being told that the city wanted him to stay in his home, yet they were threatening to condemn the property. He wanted to clean up, however, the city offered no suggestions on who to call. Alger believed the community could help.
She “just started calling” different community organizations. She reached out to the Boy Scouts but it looked to be overwhelming for them. Her contact at the fire department agreed to take on this “really big project.” In just three weeks from the initial idea, this event became a reality.
I “only asked them to do yard work, and they said they’d look at the violations and see what they could do,” Alger added.
Using their own tools, the firefighters not only cleared the overgrowth and brush, but they also made repairs to the house like building new stairs and handrails to make it safer.
Moquin, while witnessing the transformation of his yard from behind his screen door, said that this whole event was “overwhelming” and “unbelievable,” his voice shaking with emotion.
“I knew they were coming but didn’t know the extent,” he said. “Everything they took me to court for, they’re fixing.”
“I could never have done it without them,” Moquin added.
Moquin has lived on Oak Tree Avenue for 45 years. He and his late wife raised their two sons there, and he watched as the city of Warwick “changed immensely.”
After serving for the US Air Force during the Vietnam War era, Moquin found a job working for Valley Steakhouse in Warwick. While working there, he met his late wife, Judith. She was a waitress. When their eldest son was two, the couple moved into the Oak Tree home where Judith had grown up. Moquin went to work for Owens Corning Fiberglass in Aston, RI where he served as production superintendent. After 11 years in the job he decided he wanted to go on his own and started a wall papering and painting company where he worked until it became difficult to climb ladders.
Judith used to take care of the house, and even when she was first diagnosed with cancer, she “kept saying she was going to take care of it,” Moquin said. Towards the end of her life, she started hoarding.
Shortly after Judith passed away in 2018, Moquin struggled with his own health issues and was in and out of the hospital. He said it was hard to take care of the house because he could not bear to part with her things and his medical procedures “took a lot out of me.”
“[I] hated for it to come to this because I’ve always taken care of the yard,” Moquin said. But he’s extremely grateful that Alger went “above the job description” to help him.
Alger connected Moquin to a grant through Westbay Community Action to have the first floor of his home cleared out so he could have more room to live.
“None of this would have happened without Jackie,” Moquin added.
Moquin was also surprised by the number of firefighters who showed up to help him. As he watched them work, he trusted that they “were going to get it done.”
Austin Ledoux was one who came to help Moquin on his day off. Ledoux typically only interacts with people on their worst days, but he was happy that this was an “opportunity to help one of our neighbors in the area.”
Battalion Chief Marc Savaria said that this was not the first time the fire department “showed up in a mob” to help someone in the community in this way. He recalls several other times within his 25 years of working there. For example, they cleaned up the yard and did minor surface construction for “one of our guys” who was deployed to Afghanistan.
Rich Cooney, secretary of the Rhode Island Chapter of the International Association of Firefighters, stepped in to serve as the point person for the clean up when the original leader of the effort, Brandon Ingegneri, was called to Providence for a dive on a truck in the Seekonk River. Cooney said that he “did not know who was going to show up until we got here.” He was pleased that the group did “more than anticipated.”
“It’s nice to give back to the community in more ways than our work,” he added.
Other community groups also showed up for this project. Stanley Tree Service donated their wood chipping service and Presto Strange O coffee donated their time and coffee to the volunteers.
Moquin is “very grateful” for the community’s kindness.
“So much has changed, but you got good people like these guys,” Moquin said. “It makes Warwick stand out. It makes Warwick shine.”
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