The D.C. Fire Department's coffee fund, which pays for refreshments provided firefighters while they are battling blazes, is more than $1,700 in the hole, and fire officials think they have found a way to come up with the money: Sell pizza.

The idea, outlined in a memo from Fire Chief Theodore Coleman, seems simple enough: The department plans to buy the pizzas at wholesale prices from an Ohio manufacturer and send them to firehouses, where the firefighters would cook and eat them. The firefighters would pay $1 more than the $12.95 cost of each pizza six-pack, and the money would go to the coffee fund.

The only problem, according to the head of the volunteer group that staffs the traveling refreshment canteen, is that the firefighters don't much like the pizzas. He also said he doesn't understand why the refreshment fund is running a deficit equal to the yearly cost of the canteen's operation.

According to Fire Department spokesman Ray Alfred, who said the fund raising idea was his, the coffee fund is usually replenished by donations from citizens in appreciation of work by the city's firefighters and ambulance workers. The coffee fund and Car 5, the traveling refreshment canteen, are not part of the department's appropriated budget, he said, so "if people don't donate money, we can't solicit it, and we can't go to the mayor or the City Council and ask them for it."

Sheldon Levy, president of the Friendship Fire Association, said that the association stocks Car 5 from its own funds and twice a year asks for some of the donations the Fire Department has received. He said that Car 5 makes 50 to 60 runs a year at a cost of about $1,700.

Levy said that he doubted the Fire Department's pizza scheme could fund Car 5 because "the pizzas are no good. The firefighters don't like them." One firefighter echoed that sentiment, saying the pizzas taste like "cardboard."

Levy said that the Friendship Fire Association "would not be opposed to taking over fund raising" for the coffee fund because it is a nonprofit, tax-exempt organization and is allowed to solicit contributions.

The pizza scheme came on the scene about three weeks ago when every firehouse in the city was sent a "pizza kit," which included six pizza crusts, sauce, cheese and toppings that could be prepared in the houses' kitchens. According to the memo from Coleman that preceded the kits, the pizzas were a sampler.

"If you enjoy the pizza [kits] and are interested, they may be purchased through [fire] house funds," Coleman's memo said. It added that the pizza kit sales were "established for a very worthwhile cause and your support is solicited for its success."