The District's new acting fire chief called his first press conference yesterday but it was abruptly canceled at the suggestion of city hall.

"He's officially not available to reporters," said a fire department officer speaking for the acting chief, Theodore Coleman.

But sources within the fire department said Coleman was ordered not to have the meeting.

The episode followed by just one day the retirement of Chief Norman Richardson, who left after a week of ignoring Mayor Marion Barry and complaining to friends that Barry and City Administrator Elijah Rogers were meddling in his department.

The press conference was canceled amid a flurry of phone calls between Coleman's department and the District Building. Edward Myers, director of communications under Rogers, acknowledged yesterday that Coleman would have gone ahead with the press conference if he had not intervened.

Barry, who avoided reporters' questions about the fire chief all through the week and canceled his own regular press conference yesterday, took issue late in the day with allegations from within the fire department that he was "meddling" in the department.

"Meddling? That's idiocy," said Barry, who made a surprise visit to the District Building pressroom with Rogers.

"There's no such thing as the mayor meddling in his own government," Barry said yesterday. "I'm charged by the public to give executive direction. The mayor is in charge of the executive branch. You tell whoever said 'meddling' is an idiot."

Rogers said all of the city's department heads are required to clear press conferences with Myers.

"We have a process," Rogers insisted. "When we got here three years ago people were holding press conferences, going off in every direction."

Barry and Rogers commented after being told several aides had given confusing accounts of the circumstances surrounding the press conference.

Asked if Barry had any role in calling off the press conference, his press aide, Annette Samuels, checked with Barry and said he hadn't been aware of the press conference, but agreed it was a good idea not to hold one.

But Myers later said he "worked it out" with Coleman on the telephone, while Myers had been standing in Barry's office with Samuels.

Myers also said later that he had not talked with Coleman directly, but had relayed his suggestion through another communications office official, Kathy Williams. He said he only talked to Coleman directly after a reporter's inquiry about the circumstances of the cancellation