A new consumer group - called Campaign Firestone - has been formed as part of an effort to secure refunds and damage payments for owners of the controversial Firestone 500 steel-belted radial tire.

A coalition of individuals and consumer groups across the country has been organized "to make Firestone take full responsibility for its defective steel belted radial tires," according to Clarence Ditlow, director of the Center for Auto Safety, a Ralph Nader group.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration last month made an initial determination that the Firestone 500, which has been phased out of production gradually over the past two years, has a "safety defect" that has led to thousands of tire failures and subsequent deaths and injuries. The agency called on the company to recall the estimated 13 million 500's still on the road.

Hearings on the decision are scheduled to begin today at the Department of Transportation.

Firestone has defended the tire, claiming that the problems reported by consumers are due largely to improper inflation of the tire.

But last week Firestone gave its first indications that it was backing off from its hard-line defense of the tire when it was learned that Firestone's attorney. Clark Clifford, was attempting to negotiate a settlement with NHTSA that might limit a possible recall.

In Campaign Firestone's first policy statement, released by Ditlow over the weekend, the goals of the coalition were listed. They called on Firestone to:

"Recall all its defective 500 and related brand steel belted radial tires:

"Give rebates to consumers who have already replaced these tires:

"Pay for damages in accidents caused by these tires:

"The motto of Campaign Firestone will be 'Tell a Friend about Firestone Defects,'" said Campaign Firestone spokeswoman Ginger Kelly.

Listed supporters of Campaign Firestone include Arkansas Consumer Research. The Connecticut citizen Action Group, the Center for Auto Safety, and San Francisco Consumer Action, Ditlow said.

The new organization will be based in Washington, and can be reached through the Center for Auto Safety here.