Volunteers want to help local veteran on Memorial Day

BAKERSFIELD, Calif. (KBAK/KBFX) -- As the nation honors our veterans, local volunteers are ready to help a local vet. Korean War veteran Bill Quigley faces losing his apartment because the stove didn't pass a housing assistance inspection. But, offers flood in to either fix the stove or get him a new one.

Quigely lives in a small apartment on "L" Street in central Bakersfield. Living on Social Security, he depends on housing assistance from Section 8. But, the apartment recently failed that program's inspection, and it was set to be re-inspected last Friday. Quigley was afraid he'd have to move.

He served as a cook in the Air Force during the Korean War. Now, a stove that won't work in his apartment is causing the problem.

"I've been here 14 years, I mean I'm 82," Quigley told Eyewitness News. The idea of moving is overwhelming, and coming up with a deposit and first and last-month's rent for a new place seems impossible. That's why he called, looking for some help. When his story aired on Friday evening, calls started coming in with offers of assistance.

Chris Stille works for a large natural gas utility, and he saw the story on Memorial Day morning. He offered to fix the stove, and that's all Quigley had hoped for. Stille was at the veteran's apartment by noon.

"I saw he's a veteran, (it's) Memorial Day," Stille said. "When I heard the story I was instantly compelled to see if there was anything I could do." He was there on his own, on his day off.

"I'm going to do everything I can to get all four (burners) working for you," Stille said.

Quigley said the Section 8 inspector had come out a month before, and several things failed inspection. Most of those are the landlord's responsibility, according to a form the inspector left. Quigley said a manager sent workers to fix most of those, including repairs to electric sockets in the bathroom and installing weather stripping under the door.

But, Quigley said workers sent by the manager could not fix the stove. In fact, he said while two burners worked previously -- after the worker left "only one and a half" burners would light.

Stille spent more than an hour at work on the stove. "I adjusted the pilots down, and cleaned out all of the burners and the ports," he explained. "Also adjusted the air-to-gas mixture."

He was also worried about safety with the stove, because the pilot lights had been set so high. "I could smell aldehydes," Stille explained, "Which could be carbon monoxide, as well."

As a long-time tech with natural gas, Stille showed Quigley how to keep the burners clean. He also advises anyone with gas appliances to keep an eye out for any problems. He suggests calling the property manager, or calling the natural gas utility to ask for a technician to come and inspect the appliance.

Stille got the stove working as much as he could. "The burners are lighting off the pilot, except for the one where the needle valve was crushed," he explained. That fourth burner will need a new part, he said.

On Friday, Eyewitness News tried to contact the apartment complex landlord, but a phone number listed was disconnected. And no one answered at the unit where the manager's relative lives on site.

Quigley had somehow missed the Section 8 inspector who came out on Friday. That inspector left a card on his front door.

Eyewitness News had contacted the Housing Authority of Kern County on Friday asking about Quigley's situation. Executive Director Stephen Pelz said the agency tries to work with renters. Section 8 pays for part of the rent, and if a landlord doesn't make a repair they're responsible for, the agency can withhold their portion of the rent payment.

If that doesn't prod the landlord to fix the problem, Pelz said the Section 8 recipient is given a voucher to look for a new place, and they're given four months to do that.

Moving is what Quigley hopes to avoid. Now that Stille got three of the stove burners working, he hopes the stove will pass the Section 8 inspection, and he plans to call Tuesday morning to ask about the impending re-inspection.

The veteran is grateful volunteers were ready to help him. "Thanks a lot," Quigley told Stille. "No, thank you. Thank you for your service," Stille responded.

"You came out on your own, which is really super neat," Quigley insisted. And, if the repairs to the stove don't meet the standards, the veteran said he'll be grateful to the other volunteers who want to help get him a new stove. "That's great," he said about that offer. "Keep them in mind."