Hats off -- or perhaps helmets off -- to the Fairfax County fire chief. The facts presented in The Post's article {front page, Oct. 29} portray an individual who has apparently made firefighting his life in a creative, entrepreneurial, positive way.

According to the text, if not the headlines, of the story, Warren Isman has taken off 26 of 43 earned weeks of leave over four years. He has participated in educational, career-related activities during this time and has been a popular, well-respected leader in his field on personal time.

If those responsible for other services in the metropolitan area would become as engrossed and successful in their professions as Mr. Isman has, we would all benefit from allowing them generous compensatory time off.

The front-page placement, damning headlines and indicting, investigatory tone of The Post's article were bad journalism in a time of mudslinging hysteria. Mr. Isman looks good; The Post looks too eager for a story.

KURT GUENTHER Washington

Regarding the story on Fairfax County fire chief Warren Isman, a few quick calculations based on numbers provided in the article reveal that Mr. Isman has worked more overtime hours (1,798.5, based on compensatory time earned) than he has taken for all types of leave (1,721 hours).

The conclusion I reach is that for $75,877 per year, Fairfax County has received the full-time services of an internationally respected authority on fire and rescue operations. As a taxpaying citizen of the county, I consider that a bargain.

Conspicuous by its absence in the story was any assessment of the quality of services provided by the Fairfax Fire and Rescue Department. How do those services compare with those provided by, say, the District?

JAMES R. WATTS Springfield

During my tenure as director of the Montgomery County Department of Fire and Rescue Services, Warren Isman served first as a training officer and later as chief of operations. In both of these positions, he did an outstanding job. Never have I had an employee more dedicated or more willing to make a full commitment to his job.

For years, I felt that leadership in the fire service suffered from myopic parochialism. I encouraged -- in fact, I required -- all of my senior staff to participate in professional meetings and related activities. This meant getting out to see what others were doing and sharing information. Not only is this essential for the professional growth of an individual, but every professional has an obligation to contribute knowledge and experience to his profession in return.

Mr. Isman followed my recommendations. The fortunate result is that Fairfax County has a fire chief with a broad view and innovative ideas that it might not otherwise enjoy.

The Post could and should have given Mr. Isman credit for the tremendous efforts he has made on behalf of Fairfax County and fire services in general. Instead it took a cheap shot at a fine professional.

DAVID B. GRATZ Silver Spring