Where is the D.C. fire chief?

Mayor Marion Barry can't find him.

Chief Norman Richardson, who is officially on leave but has told friends he has quit, is staying at an undisclosed location and won't return the mayor's phone calls.

"It's a confusing situation," Barry's press secretary, Annette Samuels, said yesterday. "The question is, what is his problem?"

The confusion is exactly what Richardson wants, according to a source close to the chief who talked with him yesterday.

"The mayor is trying to talk to him," the source said, but "Richardson is mad at him and City Administrator Elijah B. Rogers."

The source quoted Richardson as saying yesterday, "I'm going to make them pay."

The case of the mayor's missing cabinet member began last Friday, when Richardson left on annual leave, but called back to tell Acting Chief Theodore Coleman to pass the word to Barry and Rogers that "he had had enough" and was retiring.

Richardson, a member of the fire department since 1957 and appointed chief by Barry in January 1980, is "extremely upset," the source said, over an accumulation of things, including what the chief saw as interference from Rogers in the day-to-day operation of the fire department and a drawn-out dispute over affirmative action that has held up promotions and new hiring since last October.

"He couldn't have the respect of his men when Rogers was making all the decisions," the source said Richardson told him.

Richardson particularly was unhappy that Barry had put Police Chief Maurice Turner in charge of rescue operations last Jan. 13 when the city was struck by two disasters, the Air Florida crash that killed 78 people and a Metro train derailment in which three persons died.

"He had an opportunity" to take charge, "but the mayor put the police chief in charge," the source said.

Rogers, who has been fending off press inquiries about Richardson's status for two days, said yesterday, "I don't know anything about this.

"I expect the fire chief to report to work Monday morning. It doesn't serve any useful purpose to respond to rumor and innuendo," Rogers said. "I think the press is blowing something out of proportion."

Barry's press secretary said the mayor hopes to get in touch with Richardson today "to resolve the situation."

A source close to the principals in the affair, however, said that Barry has been embarrassed by Richardson and now must find a diplomatic way of ending the episode. "It's almost 100 percent sure" that Richardson will not continue as chief, the source said.

Richardson "specifically refused to say where he was" when he called Coleman Friday, Samuels said. He returned over the weekend to his office at 614 H St. NW, cleaning out his desk and taking down plaques and pictures, the source said.

Coleman and Rogers declined two requests from a reporter to look into Richardson's office.

Sources close to Richardson and officials in the District Building said Richardson has suffered several personal problems recently, including an automobile crash. Richardson has periodically worn a neck brace since the accident.