The president of the District firefighters union said yesterday that he will meet with lawyers today to consider a legal challenge to a recent promotion examination that firefighters say was unfair and poorly administered.

Union representatives voted Monday to try to halt the grading of the test, which cost the city more than $500,000, until members' allegations are investigated.

"We've got to sift through it and see if there's anything salvageable after all of these horror stories I've heard," said Lt. Thomas N. Tippett, president of Local 36 of the International Association of Fire Fighters and one of those who took the test last Saturday.

Firefighters who took the exam, which is necessary to qualify for promotion to sergeant, lieutenant or captain, said afterward that hallways and restrooms were not monitored as they had been during previous exams, enabling test takers to confer outside the classroom during the test. They also said many test questions were based on fire manuals not included on a list of possible exam material.

Lt. Dolph Biggs, of Truck Company 7, said more than a dozen questions focused on fire and evacuation in the Metrorail system, a topic he had studied before an exam in 1984, but which was not included on the study reference list this year.

Test takers were told to disregard question number 61 on the exam, Biggs said, because the correct answer was not listed in the available responses.

"There were a lot of people scratching their heads, I can tell you," Biggs said.

Tippett said the union is considering all possibilities, including asking the courts to disregard the test. U.S. District Judge Charles Richey ordered the exam last month, after a six-year-old affirmative action suit that had postponed all promotions in the department was settled.

Fire department officials were not available for comment yesterday.

Because firefighters have waited so long and studied so hard for the test, Tippett added, nullifying it would be a slap in the face to them.

One fire sergeant, who asked not to be identified, said he spent six hours a day for three months preparing for the test and was not willing to go through the process again if the exam is rescheduled.

"You have no home life; you have no social life; all you have is your job and your books," he said.

"If they declare it null and void, everybody loses. And if they don't, everybody still loses."