09/04/2012 05:31 pm ET Updated Sep 04, 2012

Obama Beer Gift Could Cause Trouble For D.C. Firefighters


WASHINGTON -- President Obama made a Virginia firehouse very happy on Tuesday when he gave fire personnel in Norfolk a case of beer brewed at the White House to "test it out."

But a similar token of goodwill by the president might cause a huge headache if replicated at any District of Columbia firehouse, especially one located roughly 14 blocks north of the White House.

As WRC-TV/NBC4 reported last year, D.C. Fire Chief Kenneth Ellerbe temporarily closed the U Street fire station after a neighbor left behind two 12-packs of beer as a thank you to firefighters for putting out a fire at his home:

[Ellerbe] ordered 15 firefighters to undergo a breathalyzer test. None of them tested positive for alcohol, and the station was reopened a couple of hours later.

Ellerbe says the beer may have been a gift from grateful neighbors, but the firefighters should not have accepted it. He says the community needs to know that first responders have their safety in mind.

The beer incident grew into a larger fire department furor, where, according to The Washington Times, Ellerbe was accused of "workplace bullying" in how the disciplinary process was carried out.

In the case of the Norfolk firefighters, The Associated Press reports that the president didn't mandate the White House beer be consumed on the spot:

One of the firefighters at Norfolk Fire State No. 14, presumably on duty, asked Obama: "Should we wait until tomorrow to drink it?"

"I don't want to get you into trouble with the chief," the president responded.

The president, headed to the Democratic National Convention in Charlotte, N.C., this week, might not have time to host a White House beer summit to smooth things over if the craft brew bubbles into an unexpected controversy.



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