It's the pride of the Clinton Volunteer Fire Department: a brand-new red pumper truck that cost $350,000 and can haul a crew of six firefighters at a top speed of 72 mph.

But since it was purchased in April, the Clinton volunteers have been forced to keep their pumper in dry dock. Turns out the new fire engine works too well--it goes too fast.

And that violates Prince George's County safety standards, which prohibit firetrucks from even being capable of exceeding 65 mph.

So it sits, and the fire company has been forced to borrow a pumper from the county fire department.

The volunteers could spend an estimated $3,000 to adjust the truck's gears so it won't go so fast. Before they do that, however, they are trying to win approval for a cheaper and simpler solution--raising the top allowable speed to 75 mph.

A Prince George's committee is expected to take up the issue as part of a larger review of safety standards for fire equipment, but the group isn't expected to issue recommendations for six months. Until then, the Clinton volunteers are hoping Prince George's Fire Chief Ronald J. Siarnicki will grant them a special waiver so they can press their new pumper into service immediately.

But Capt. Mark Brady, a spokesman for the Prince George's fire department, said yesterday that Siarnicki would not be eager to make an exception to the speed limit, which he described as a safety precaution meant to protect firefighters and residents.

"I know when it comes to safety, he doesn't bend too much," Brady said of Siarnicki. "But I know we're working closely with Clinton so that we can get it out on the street and start putting out fires."

"It's kind of disappointing, but it's something we just have to deal with," said Scott Kaiser, president of the Clinton Volunteer Fire Company. "It's frustrating, but once you put a rule down, if you let someone bend it, it just escalates."

Other volunteer firefighters expressed stronger feelings. "Everybody's upset about it," said Jeff Dickey, spokesman for the Prince George's Volunteer Fire and Rescue Association. "I don't think the county is trying to do it on purpose, but it's starting to seem to all the volunteers that every time they try to improve service, that there's always hoops that we have to jump through."

The excessive horsepower was discovered when the truck was put through a test run at a Prince George's maintenance shop last summer, several weeks after it was delivered by Pierce Manufacturing Inc., of Appleton, Wis. Kaiser said that the manufacturer wasn't to blame and that the volunteer fire company probably provided the wrong engine specifications by accident.

The Clinton Volunteer Fire Company paid for the fire engine with investment income and earnings from casino gambling fund-raisers it ran before the practice was outlawed in Prince George's in 1997, Kaiser said.

The Clinton fire station has another pumper that it has used for years, but it's in the shop with a steering problem, Kaiser said. So for now, with the new pumper mothballed, Clinton firefighters are using a pumper on loan from the county fire department.

CAPTION: Mike Rivera cleans the wheel wells of a new pumper that has sat unused for months because it can go too fast.