The "frustration and stress" felt by volunteer firefighters who got lost on their way to a car fire contributed to a September 1989 collision in Fauquier County between their firetruck and an Amtrak train, which killed two firefighters and injured 57 passengers, according to a report on the causes of the crash.

The report from the National Transportation Safety Board says that Mark J. Miller, 24, driver of the Catlett, Va., volunteer fire department truck, failed to stop at a railroad crossing. He had become lost searching for the fire near Route 28, then overshot the driveway leading to the site and probably was embarrassed because he had violated department procedure by failing to take a department officer on the firetruck when he responded to the call, the report says.

Miller may have felt added pressure, the safety board said, because he knew that his chief, Clyde Lomax, was monitoring his progress toward reaching the fire site. He also was aware that Lomax had arrived there first even though the chief had left the station five minutes after Miller.

By the time Miller and the truck carrying four other firefighters reached the railroad crossing a mile south of Catlett, the board said, "their focus of attention had narrowed to include only the task of arriving at the site of the fire.

"The peripheral task of determining that it was safe to proceed across the railroad tracks, which would have required scanning both left and right along the tracks, had been eliminated from their perceived priorities."

Amtrak's Crescent, traveling south from New York to New Orleans with a stop in Washington, slammed into the left side of the firetruck at 77 miles an hour, killing Miller and another firefighter in the cabin passenger seat, Matt Smith, 22. Both were from Catlett.

The train's two locomotives and the first 11 of 16 cars derailed, a fire broke out near one of the locomotives and the 399 passengers -- including many Redskins fans on their way to a game in New Orleans -- were evacuated or sent to hospitals.

Until now, authorities have said the collision occurred because Miller simply failed to look both ways before crossing the tracks. The crossing was marked by a sign, but no automatic signals.

But the new report says that the firefighters' emotions contributed to the collision.

"What should have been a routine response to a fire that initially posed little threat to life or other property became, in less than six minutes, a response involving a succession of performance errors or omissions that resulted in a steadily increasing level of frustration and stress for the two firefighters in the wagon's cab," said the safety board, which investigates transportation accidents.

In its account of the 7:38 p.m. accident, the safety board said that the firefighters -- two in the cabin and three in the rear-facing jumpseat -- left the station for the car fire about 7:26 p.m. without a department officer on board as required by policy.

Lomax, who arrived at the station shortly after the firefighters left, radioed the truck and asked who was in charge, indicating to the firefighters he knew they had failed to take an officer with them.

A few minutes later, Miller called in to ask the dispatcher to get directions to the fire. At that point, the report said, Lomax knew the firefighters were lost, and the chief and three other firefighters left the station to respond to the fire themselves.

"At that point {Miller} undoubtedly felt additional pressure to perform," the safety board said. "He had passed the entrance to the fire site, his chief knew it, and now the chief had taken command and was himself responding."

Compounding Miller's frustration, the board said, Lomax reached the fire first in his private vehicle. When the firetruck arrived at the site, Miller overshot the entrance, which the board said indicated Miller's preoccupation with hurrying to the fire.

In an interview yesterday, Lomax said he was responsible for the firefighters' actions and was simply trying to help them. The board did not characterize Lomax's actions as inappropriate, though it said his presence weighed on the firefighters' minds.

"All I was doing was making sure they knew what they were doing," Lomax said yesterday. Lomax said he should not be blamed for the accident. He declined to comment further.

The Transportation Safety Board recommended that fire officials nationwide adopt sets of procedures to evaluate the hazards of railroad crossings and develop plans that emphasize the safe arrival of fire equipment.

Amtrak filed suit against the Catlett department, seeking at least $910,000 in damages.

The railroad lost the case, but the Virginia Supreme Court accepted it on appeal, an Amtrak spokesman said yesterday.