A special hearing examiner ruled yesterday that a test used in 1980 to help select D.C. firefighters discriminated against minorities because it was not related sufficiently to the job the applicants were seeking.

But the examiner rejected contentions that a pattern of racial discrimination involving recruiting and promotions exists in the department.

The examiner, who heard testimony from city officials and firefighters during five months of hearings that ended last April, recommended that the city government develop a new test for prospective firefighters and establish an affirmative action plan to eliminate vestiges of "racial disparity" that he found in a department that is about 63 percent white in a city whose population is about 70 percent black.

The recommendations stopped short of the remedial action ordered last year by Anita B. Shelton, director of the city's Office of Human Rights, who ruled that the department must fill 60 of 70 existing vacancies with minorities and continue hiring other minority applicants until "traditional patterns of racial segregation" were eliminated.

Shelton, acting as the city's chief affirmative action officer, had ruled in September that the 1,410-member force was systematically discriminating against minorities. Implementation of her order was delayed when the city decided that public hearings should have preceded its issuance.

In yesterday's ruling, hearing examiner Patrick E. Kelly, an employe of the city Department of Licenses, Inspections and Investigations, declared that the 1980 multiple-choice hiring exam was not sufficiently job-related and that the hiring of applicants based on their test rankings was discriminatory. About 72 percent of the top 100 scorers on the test were white.

At the same time, Kelly found that black firefighters had "failed to introduce any evidence" that the department had discriminated against blacks in establishing job-qualifications, recruitment practices or promotions.

William Mould, president of the predominantly white Local 36 of The International Association of Firefighters -- bargaining agent for rank-and-file department personnel -- hailed Kelly's decision as a "total vindication" of promotion and recruitment practices in the department.

Romeo Spaulding, president of the Progressive Firefighters, one of two mostly black firefighter groups that had voiced the charges, said last night that he had not had a chance to evaluate the report.

Shelton has 30 days to accept, modify or reject Kelly's findings. Shelton must then send her report to Veronica Pace, an aide to the city administrator.Pace ordered the hearings after being appointed to review the case by Mayor Marion Marion Barry.