The D.C. Fire Department's problems with the ambulance division are just the tip of the iceberg. As the wife of a D.C. firefighter, I am sure that the department has several major problems confronting it.

The D.C. residency requirement has prohibited the Fire Department from getting the most qualified applicants for the many positions available. Housing in the District is not affordable on a firefighter's salary. I understand that a D.C. Council member has said that there is plenty of affordable housing in Southeast, but who wants to raise one's children in a drug-ridden environment? The D.C. Council and the Fire Department need to relax the residency requirement not only for paramedics but for the whole department as well.

There has not been a promotional exam in the department since 1984. Officer vacancies are now being filled using a list of senior firefighters, some of whom have never passed a promotional exam. Department members of all ranks and ages are being denied the chance to achieve positions on a competitive basis. There are acting officers, promoted from the 1984 exam, who have yet to be officially assigned the position they have earned.

The whole promotional process is tied up in a legal battle over whether it is a fair and nondiscriminatory system. In the meantime, firefighters can't make plans for the future. Most ambitious people take a job that they know has some upward mobility, but D.C. firefighters have to be happy with a "maybe someday."

I believe it is time for Mayor Barry to force Chief Theodore Coleman to retire. The chief obviously has a do-nothing-until-a-crisis personality, and his memos and procedural changes are as unpredictable as he is. The Fire Department needs a chief who will take charge, one who knows what it is like to be "on the back step" and not just pushed through the system to please a mayor and a city's image.