It was meant to be a token of thanks and appreciation. But now that a friendly case of beer has gotten some local firefighters in trouble, the D.C. man who gave the gift wishes he could take it back.
Clem Cypra took the case of beer to Engine 9 on U Street to thank the firefighters for putting out an air conditioner fire at his home. That beer was found in the firehouse fridge Thursday. Chief Kenneth Ellerbe shut down the station for hours and ordered firefighters undergo breathalyzer tests. All of them passed, but Ellerbe says it’s still against department policy to have alcohol on the premises.
Cypra says the firefighters had refused to take the beer, but he insisted, and now feels terrible.
“The last thing in the world I wanted to do was cause anybody problems,” says Cypra. “It was a gesture of thanks. And it turns out to cause them potentially any problem, that’s a little bit of a fiasco and an unintended consequence of doing the right thing.”
The station’s command staff is expected to face disciplinary action.
Chief Ellerbe wrote an emailed response to Mr. Cypra Sunday, which was forwarded to News4. He wrote in the letter:
First of all, thank you for recognizing the work done by our members, all to often our jobs are thankless ones, which we know and accept when we enter them. For the record, there is a process for our department to accept donations which is a more appropriate avenue to pursue in the future. (Please note that it is very difficult to determine the tone of an email, so I'll state that I do appreciate your effort to say thanks to our members for a job well done.)
Second, and most important, alcoholic beverages are not to be stored on government property. My understanding is that the gift that you bestowed on our members was kept in the fire station for over a week and the 12 pack in question was unopened in the morning and was not only opened but was diminishing through the course of the day! Our rules and regulations specifically forbid our members from placing themselves under the influence of intoxicants. My responsibilities include ensuring that our vehicles are operated in a safe manner and that our employees follow the rules that are in place to ensure the safety of our community and our members. What would you think of me or our department if I was aware of the situation and did nothing, resulting in one of our members driving under the influence and causing harm to another member or someone in the community? I take my responsibilities and the safety of our members and the community very seriously and do not compromise in that area at all. Our members know or should know what the rules are.
I appreciate the gesture that you made and have no regrets regarding the way that this matter was handled despite the media attention, particularly with respect to the unreported facts surrounding this incident.
Thank you again.
Kenneth B. Ellerbe
Cypra replied, "I'm much obliged to you and your men. Coffee and pastries in the future."