No one in the D.C. fire department seemed surprised when Kevin Taylor, a former firefighter, was shot to death last week in Richmond. The execution-style slaying seemed to confirm what many knew or suspected: that Taylor, 23, had a drug problem.

Richmond police said witnesses told them that Taylor, who lived at 3320 27th Ave., Temple Hills, and a companion, William A. Powell, 25, of 2805 Jasper St. SE, were both shot several times in the head, neck and body Nov. 7 during a drug transaction that went sour. Undetermined amounts of money and narcotics were found on the scene, police said. They said no arrest has been made in the incident.

For Taylor, who was a firefighter for about five months, it was the culmination of a life style that many in the fire department say they knew about, and the nagging question, they said, was whether the department was adequately equipped to deal with it.

Beyond that, officials said, is the larger issue of drug and alcohol use in the fire department, and what the department is doing to detect and treat those illnesses.

"The department doesn't want to face up to the '80s," said William E. Mould, president of the International Association of Firefighters, Local 36. Mould said there are "probably a dozen serious" drug offenders in the 1,200-man department in addition to those who are recreational users.

"This is a very stressful job and you can be sure we have people using these substances . . . . I have constantly tried to get the department to inaugurate some kind of alcohol and drug rehabilitation program . . . but they are afraid it will document that the department has a problem."

Fire department spokesman Ray Alfred said that Fire Chief Theodore Coleman "won't tolerate drug use on the job. But he wants to be compassionate and look at the alternatives to dismissal , one of which is an employe assistance program" that offers counseling by two psychiatrists at the police and fire clinic.

"We know there is a stigma attached with seeing a doctor , so we don't want people to be afraid to seek help. But if anyone is caught under the influence on the job, he'll be severely disciplined."

Last spring, Taylor's drug problem was no longer a secret. On Feb. 29, according to internal fire department records, he was stationed to the "fire watch" at the shelter for the homeless, 425 Second St. NW, as part of the nightly group of firefighters who guard the building because of concern about its dilapidated condition.

At 6 a.m., Capt. James Greco and Battalion Chief Edward Rinker went to the shelter to investigate a report that Taylor was behaving erratically, according to the reports, and they asked Taylor to submit to drug tests at the Washington Hospital Center. As they were driving him to the hospital, Taylor became agitated, the reports say, and he hit Greco in the eye.

It turned into a brawl inside the car, but Rinker and Greco were able to subdue Taylor, who subsequently refused to take tests at the hospital, according to the reports. He was arrested and charged with assault, according to police.

At the shelter, police recovered a packet of drugs that two firefighters said they saw Taylor drop, and he was also charged with possession of PCP and possession of PCP with intent to distribute, a police spokeswoman said.

According to Alfred, Taylor resigned before the fire department could fire him. Taylor's attorney, Arthur M. Reynolds, said, "Kevin's position was that the PCP and marijuana found on the floor were not his and had never been in his possession. His version of the fight was that he acted in self-defense."

Greco, who was out on sick leave for two months as a result of the incident, said he suffers from permanent blurred vision because of a scar on his retina that he received during the attack.

The fight was one of numerous drug-related incidents that have occurred recently in the fire department, according to Battalion Chief George B. Capps, who heads a committee formed in September by the Chief Officers Association to investigate drug use in the department.

So far, Capps' investigation has uncovered 10 cases of firefighters who use drugs and a dozen other incidents that may be drug-related, he said.

Capps said that he will send a report to Chief Coleman that recommends a mandatory drug testing program similar to the one used by the police department. Currently, Capps said, the department's only mandatory test is administered to recruits when they join the department.

Alfred said that chiefs can request that firefighters submit to drug tests if there is a reason to suspect that they are under the influence. However, he said, "We are coming to a time when we are . . . probably going to go to the system that the police department has."

The police department requires tests at the end of the first year of probation, at a five-year physical exam, during promotional physicals and any time a member of the department reports to the police and fire clinic for a physical exam, a police spokesman said. In addition, he said, spot tests are administered to recruits during their training period.

Alfred said that two psychiatrists are at the police and fire clinic to provide counseling to any member of the department who needs it.

However, firefighters and other officials say that this service is infrequently used because few people seem to know about it, and those who do are afraid that they might be punished if the department finds out about their illness.