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Firehouse beer was a gift, no harm meant

Sunday - 9/25/2011, 2:46pm  ET

WTOP/Mark Segraves
Ellerbe says he was 'dismayed' after finding beer at this firehouse. (WTOP/Mark Segraves)

Mark Segraves, wtop.com

WASHINGTON - An entire D.C. fire station in Northwest was taken out of service Thursday after the fire chief walked into the station house and discovered a case of beer in the refrigerator.

On Saturday, WTOP learned that the beer was a gift from a man who says his house almost burned down last week but was saved by the firefighters at the station.

"Last Wednesday, those guys saved my house from burning," says Clem Cypra in an email. "An AC motor caught fire at 7:45 a.m. I was in the shower. Called at 7:54 a.m., they walked through the door at 8:01 a.m. and put out the fire."

He went on, "I did what any 36-year-old guy would do -- I took them a case of beer."

Cypra says he was upset to hear that they got in trouble for having the alcohol -- a 12-pack of Stella Artois and a 12-pack of Corona.

"I can't believe that I caused them a moment of grief when all I wanted to do was say thanks," he says. "Those men were the ultimate professionals and while we may pay taxes and expect them to help, I felt indebted to them."

"I wanted them to have a beer on me and [my wife] Susan."

Chief Kenneth Ellerbe tells WTOP that after finding the beer, he immediately ordered Engine 9 out of service and had 15 firefighters and EMTs undergo alcohol testing at the department's clinic.

"I was a bit dismayed, shocked, surprised," Ellerbe says about his discovery. "Our older members should have known better."

Ellerbe says all of the personnel tested negative for alcohol and have been allowed to return to duty, but the incident remains under investigation and the station's command staff is facing disciplinary action.

"There will be some consequences for this." Ellerbe says. "We want to send a strong message we take public safety very seriously."

Things were back to normal at Engine 9 Friday morning. The station, located in the 1600 block of U Street NW, was out of service for less than two hours, according to Ellerbe.

"Coverage was not compromised," the chief says.

Ellerbe says it appears the beer was a gift from some grateful residents, but command staff should have known better than to accept it.

"We can't have this kind of behavior," he says, adding that some staff members are facing possible suspensions. "The command staff will be appropriately reprimanded."

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(Copyright 2011 by WTOP. All Rights Reserved.)