I am a member of a minority, middle class, female and 50 years old. I do not include my race because that should have no bearing on this letter. I interpret Mayor Barry's reported statement {Metro, Jan. 23} that he does not want to fire Fire Chief Theodore Coleman, who is black, because that would be seen as a victory for the mostly white firefighters' union to be a racial slur. Is the mayor saying he can't replace his fire chief because he's black and incompetent, because he would ruffle the feathers of the black community or because he would lose face and give a victory to the white firefighters? At what price victory?

Where does the individual requiring emergency assistance fit into all this political garbage? An employee should be competent and qualified for the job regardless of race. I resent Mayor Barry's poor judgment in his use of words and believe he should be censured for considering race as a factor in this issue.

I hope that I never require emergency help in the D.C. area but that, if I do, my affairs are in order. GLORIA MORGAN Woodbridge

As a resident of and a firefighter in the District, I am disgusted that Mayor Barry wants to keep Theodore Coleman in office until August so that Mr. Coleman can be the first black fire chief to address the International Association of Fire Chiefs in Washington that month. Meanwhile, ambulance crews are getting lost and taking inexcusable amounts of time to get to a citizen's call for help. Why does the mayor place his priority on making "history" while people are dying all over this city? How many people must die before August arrives?

The D.C. Fire Department should protect people from all walks of life, not just a select few. I believe that "history" should take a back seat to our main purpose: that of protecting life and property. JAMES P. SCHNEIDER Washington