Since becoming Fairfax County's fire chief four years ago, Warren E. Isman has taken more than 43 weeks in leave from the Fire and Rescue Department, or the equivalent of one out of every five work days, according to county leave records.

The fire chief has spent part of his leave, which is mostly compensatory time, giving speeches at fire conferences and organizations in such places as Japan, the Netherlands, Israel, Singapore, Australia, England and New Zealand. He has visited three of the countries twice.

In addition to his travels, Isman operates a fire and rescue consulting business, raising questions about whether county department heads should be engaging in related outside work. Some also ask whether top officials should be eligible for compensatory time.

Isman, who is paid $75,877 a year to oversee the largest fire and rescue department in Virginia with more than 1,000 employes, says he works long hours when on duty and delegates "a great deal" of authority when away. County Executive J. Hamilton Lambert defends Isman, saying, "I think the leadership is superb." Officials dismiss any notion that Isman's activities during his time off conflict with or detract from his county job.

Those activities include:Being president of a consulting firm called Fire Rescue Consultants Inc., which has conducted business in 49 states, according to Isman's 14-page resume. Providing expertise for a law enforcement management consulting firm run by former county police chief Carroll Buracker. Using his fire helmet, adorned with the county seal, in brochures and advertisements for the FireSoft Division of Ocean Data Systems Inc., for which one of his daughters was employed. The brochures, with his daughter listed as the contact person, were mailed to county fire stations, and the helmet was recognized by county firefighters. Writing about 90 articles for trade magazines, according to his resume, including a cover story by Isman, his daughter and an associate in The International Fire Chief, touting the benefits of software programs designed for fire services. Giving speeches in seven countries primarily about hazardous materials, a topic in which Isman is universally recognized as an expert and has written a book. He has written a second book for pump operators.

During one of several interviews, Isman said there is no overlap between his role as fire chief and his activities away from the job. "I happen to take my vacations internationally," said Isman, 49.

He said the trips listed in his resume under the section titled "Foreign Speeches" were paid for either by the governments and organizations he visited or out of his own pocket. His wife Marguerite accompanied him on some of his trips abroad, he said.

Financial disclosure forms filed with the county show that Isman received remuneration from some of the organizations he addressed, including $1,635 for his trip to Singapore in 1985. Last year, he received $850 for his trip to Perth, Australia, and $1,125 for his trip to Rotterdam, the forms stated. He also received $2,800 for a trip to Dallas and other unspecified expenses.

The time taken for the trips was annual leave and compensatory time that Isman said he has accrued while fire chief. In addition, he took official representative leave specially granted to him by the county, as was the case in his trips to Japan in October 1984 and the Netherlands in April 1986.

According to Isman's leave records, he has used five weeks of his annual leave since he was hired by the county in July 1983. The records document up through Aug. 14, a four-year period, and do not reflect additional annual leave earned or taken since then. During the same period, Isman took 11 weeks in administrative leave, the records showed.

Most of the leave Isman has used while fire chief is compensatory time, the records showed. According to the records, the fire chief has earned more than 43 weeks in such time and used 26 weeks of it during the four-year period.

Isman said he earned the compensatory time primarily making after-hours visits to the county's 31 fire stations, working late in his office in Fairfax City and attending night meetings held by civic associations and other groups.

All county employes, with the exception of the county executive, can earn compensatory time, according to personnel officials. In practice, however, other top officials said they use none or very little of the time they earn because they cannot afford to take the time away from their demanding jobs.

Richard King, deputy county executive for public safety and Isman's immediate supervisor, said he has never taken any compensatory time. The decision to use the time is up to the individual, King said.

County Police Chief John E. Granfield said he earns compensatory time and uses on average about two weeks a year. Last year, Granfield said he was away from the job about four weeks, using compensatory time and annual leave.

The county's chief prosecutor, who is elected and paid by the county and the state, said he has never taken any compensatory time in more than 20 years on the job.

"God, no telling how many hours of comp time I'd have if I'd thought there was such a thing," said Commonwealth's Attorney Robert F. Horan Jr. "I belong to this council and that committee; police will call me at 2 o'clock in the morning. I just always thought that it was a 24-hour-a-day job."

Isman, who was away on leave more than 13 weeks last year, said his theory of management involves "a great deal" of delegation. "I think a good leader develops a good staff," he said. " . . . I ensure that I have the staff to provide continuity."

The department is structured in such a way that there are four deputy fire chiefs and a deputy chief, who is second in command.

While Chief Deputy Gary A. Mesaris is generally well-regarded in the department, he raised some eyebrows when he and another fire official drove a fire truck equipped with a radar detector to a conference in Dallas. The fire department noted that Mesaris was on leave at the time, the fire truck was not yet technically part of its fleet despite its county markings and the radar detector, more commonly known by the trade name Fuzzbuster, was not used in Virginia, where the devices are illegal.

When Isman is away, according to sources in the Fire and Rescue Department, routine administrative decisions, such as promotions and other employe matters, are delayed.

Isman vehemently denied the allegation: "Everything gets signed. They {such matters} don't have to wait for Isman's approval . . . . Nothing waits for me -- nothing."

In a letter over Isman's signature and obtained by The Washington Post, the fire chief wrote that "no final decision would be possible" on a personnel matter involving a firefighter until Isman's return from a foreign trip.

Firefighters say the chief's travels are so legendary that they no longer try to keep track of his whereabouts. Isman denies that characterization.

"I don't think I travel a lot," he said.

However, according to his resume, during one 13-month period ending November 1986, Isman traveled to Singapore, the Netherlands, Israel, New Zealand and twice to Australia. During the same period, he also attended work-related conferences in Memphis, Dallas and Williamsburg, according to county travel expense vouchers.

Isman, who recently returned from his second trip to England, said the trips he and his wife took to Singapore and Australia in November and December 1985 were combined, as were their trips to New Zealand and Australia in October and November last year.

Asked about Isman's time away from the department, King, his supervisor, said: "I know it sounds like a lot, but when you spread it out over a period of time . . . there are some months when he's not been gone at all."

Asked if he thought the travel and compensatory time were excessive, Lambert, who appointed Isman to the job subject to confirmation by the county Board of Supervisors, said: "Excessive would be if you didn't get your tasks done."

King agreed that Isman fulfills his responsibilities and credited him with making "sweeping changes" in the fire department, particularly in the area of training.

Isman also has helped other fire departments improve their training. His consulting firm has provided "complete training packages" and other programs for fire services in 49 states, according to his resume.

Isman, who was a fire chief in Montgomery County before his hiring in Fairfax, said he has been less involved in the consulting firm in recent years. He declined to disclose the firm's finances, citing privacy of his business partners.

According to officials at the State Department of Assessments and Taxation in Baltimore, the consulting firm has been incorporated since 1974, but the firm's charter was annulled last year for failure to file personal property returns since 1984. Isman said he was not aware that his firm was no longer incorporated.

The last annual report, filed in 1984, listed Isman's wife as treasurer of the business, which provides "educational services." The coauthor of Isman's book titled "Hazardous Materials" and the coauthor's wife were listed as vice president and secretary, respectively. The Ismans live in Burke, and their business partners live in Stillwater, Okla., the forms stated.

Asked about the brochure advertising a product his daughter's company was selling, Isman said the helmet in the picture belonged to him, but he added that the county seal on the helmet, not just the county's name, was supposed to have been covered up. "I didn't want Fairfax County tied into it," he said.

Isman said there was a mass mailing of the brochures to about 20,000 fire stations across the country that included Fairfax. The FireSoft Division was successful and has been sold, and Isman's daughter no longer works at the Rockville firm, an official said. The county did not do any business with the company, a county official said.

In The International Fire Chief article, which ran before distribution of the FireSoft advertisements, Isman, his daughter and an associate wrote about the benefits of buying software designed specifically for the fire service: "Buying software already prepared will save you a considerable amount of time and money. The unfortunate thing is that very little of this type of software is currently available . . . . "

As another business interest, Isman said he is working with former police chief Buracker in his firm, Carroll Buracker and Associates Inc. in Vienna. Isman said he is "assisting {Buracker} with contracts"; Buracker said that thus far that has involved one project.

Isman is proud of his travels and accomplishments, as evidenced by the walls in his office, which are hidden behind plaques and mementos, including luggage tags from his trips.

The fire chief communicates with some of his employes via videotape, dubbed "Chief's Video," and has produced some about his travels. The travel tapes, which were circulated to the stations and were required viewing, were watched by some employes on fast-forward, sources said.

During some of his fire station visits, most employes, wary of his temper, are loath to criticize department policy for fear of retribution, according to department sources.

Isman, who in August became president of the International Association of Fire Chiefs, has told county officials that in the next year there will be even more demands on his time. "The presidential year requires quite a bit of travel -- most of that on weekends," he said.

Garry Briese, executive director of the association, said Isman likely will make about eight trips on behalf of the group in the next year, with most of the travel on weekends. "It's difficult for any chief to get away from his department for any length of time," Briese said.

The only foreign trip scheduled for the group is for a conference in Sweden. Briese described Isman's foreign travels to date as private trips.

Asked how he can take so much compensatory time, travel, write articles and run a consulting firm in addition to a fire and rescue department, Isman said that he works 15-hour days, requires only about five hours of sleep a night and can sleep on airplanes.

Said Isman: "My hobby is my fire service."

May 1984 -- Eastleigh, England. Hampshire Fire Brigade. "Fire Prevention."

October 1984 -- Tokyo, Japan. International Disaster Management Conference. "Developing and Training a Hazardous Materials Response Team."

November 1985 -- Singapore. Institute of Fire Engineers. "Handling Hazardous Materials Incidents During Transportation or When in Storage."

December 1985 -- Sydney, Melbourne and Perth, Australia. Institute of Fire Engineers of Australia. "Handling Hazardous Materials Incidents" and "Fire Apparatus Specifications in the United States."

April 1986 -- Rotterdam, the Netherlands. International Association of Fire Chiefs, European Conference. "Emergency Response to Hazardous Materials Incidents."

July 1986 -- Jerusalem, Israel. Israeli Association of Fire Chiefs. "Disaster Management of Chemical Releases."

October 1986 -- Auckland, New Zealand. New Zealand Fire Services. "Fire Department Response to Hazardous Materials Incidents."

November 1986 -- Perth and Sydney, Australia. Institution of Fire Engineers. "Fire Department Response to Hazardous Materials Incidents."

March 1987 -- Wellington, New Zealand. New Zealand Fire Service. "Fire Department Response to Hazardous Materials Incidents."