A Fairfax County police telephone operator called a citizen a "son of a bitch" over the emergency 911 phone line and would have been fired as a result if he had not already submitted his resignation, police said yesterday.

The operator, who was assigned to answer 911 calls, had only a few days left on the job at the time of the incident Oct. 5 and there was no time for his superiors to go ahead with the firing process, county police spokesman Warren Carmichael said.

Police declined to name the 911 operator, who also worked as a dispatcher, but Carmichael called him "an exemplary employe" prior to the incident and said he had received at least two commendations during 2 1/2 years of service.

Cursing callers is considered an offense serious enough to merit firing, Carmichael said, "because it is not our policy to condone use of that kind of language to citizens."

Police officials learned of the incident following an inquiry from The Washington Post, made after a man called the newspaper to complain about the treatment he received when he called the Fairfax County 911 line. He refused to identify himself to a reporter.

Police said they do not know the identity of the caller and that the operator cursed him for just that reason: out of frustration over the man's refusal to identify himself although he was reporting an incident he wanted investigated.

Police officials verified the cursing incident by listening to tape recordings are made of all 911 calls, A supervisor "apologized . . . and explained that that particular operator had had a rough evening . . . . " -- Warren Carmichael Carmichael said. They then initiated the firing proceedings that turned out to be too late because the operator had already resigned, he said.

Police refused to release a transcript of the exchange between the man and the operator, saying such transcripts had never before been released and they did not wish to set a precedent. But they gave this account of the incident:

The man called to report the sound of screaming near the intersection of Fordson Road and Lockheed Boulevard in the Alexandria area of the county, just off Richmond Highway, and declined to give his address or name.

The man hung up on the operator, but the operator immediately used an automatic call-back device to ring the phone from which the man had called.

The caller answered and provided his address, after which the operator called him a "son of a bitch" "out of general frustration," Carmichael said.

Police said yesterday they did not know whether the man's report of screaming was investigated or not and that they have not attempted to learn the man's name because of his desire for anonymity.

The 911 tapes disclosed that the man called later that evening and described the incident to a dispatching supervisor, who "apologized to the caller," Carmichael said. The supervisor explained "that that particular operator had had a rough evening and advised the caller of the procedure for filing a formal complaint."

The caller said he would not file a formal complaint because he wanted to remain anonymous. Carmichael said the supervisor did not report the incident or take any disciplinary action because of the lack of a formal complaint and because she knew the operator had submitted his resignation a week earlier.

He said the supervisor was not disciplined but was told she should have reported the incident to her superiors immediately regardless of the operator's status.