Firefighters of Fairfax Company No. 3 say they are tired of being used as a political football in the dispute over service contracts between Fairfax City and Fairfax County.

The city and county sat down at the negotiating table early last spring to begin working out contracts for eight services the county provides the city. In October, when the negotiators finally got to the first item on the list - fire services - talks broke down. According to teh men in Company No. 3, they got caught in the cross-fire, and now they want out.

"Basically we want to stay neutral in this whole affair," said Albert S. Adams, a fire company spokesman and a volunteer fire-fighter. "But we also have to let people know that the squabbles between the city and county are only jeopardizing the life and property of the citizens."

Adams said the fire company is alerting citizens' associations that some residents may lose close-in fire protection if the city and county do not resolve disagreements over shared fire services before the current contract expires in May.

"There are more than 340 streets in the county near city limits that Company 3 now serves," Adams said. "We're advising residents on those streets to check street atlases and figure out how much further away they are from county stations than from No.3 and how much longer it's going to take those stations to respond to an emergency."

Fire Company No.3 is on University Drive in Fairfax City. The building and most equipment are owned by the independent Fairfax Volunteer Fire Department. Twenty county-paid firemen are assigned to the company, which also has about 50 active volunteers.

Under the current fire contract, No. 3 provides fire protection for certain areas of the county in exchange for training and the use of communications facilities and some equipment from Fairfax County.

Since the status of that contract is uncertain, both the city and county have made contingency plans in case no agreement is reached by May. The city says it will take over operation of the Company No. 3 and will provide fire services only within the city limits. The county, on the other hand, has said it will begin charging the city for anything the county provides. County-paid firefighters would be transferred to other stations and the city would hire its own firefighters.

However, the members of Company No. 3 are unhappy with the plans, according to Adams.

"We want to see things stay the way they are, and that's how just about all of the boys feel, whether they are volunteers or guys paid by the county," Adams said.

If the proposed changes are put into effect, Company No. 3 will have only the eight square miles of the city left to cover, a possibility the company believes would threaten its survival.

"If our area is made smaller, we won't get as many calls, the morale drops and very likely we lose volunteers," conjectured Joel Hendelman, who has been a volunteer with the company for more than a year. "This company has one of the best relationships around between paid men and volunteers. We're effective and efficent. It would be rotten to see a strong operation go down the drain over political nonsense."

"There are all kinds of rumors about where the county may build new fire stations if there is no sharing between the county and the city," said another comapny member who declined to be named. "And if any of those rumors are true, if the county ends up building a new fire station to give the same protection this company already gives and gives well, then that's just plain cheating the tazpayers."

The firefighters say the problems between the city and the county already are beginning to affect the company. Some of the county-paid men have asked for transfers, and some already have left, according to other company members.

The company also has put off planing fo the furture. There had been plans to buy new home monitirs for volunteers; those purchases have been delayed. Other firefighters point to a shiny red truck with the 85-foot ladder that makes runs into the county and wonder how much use it's going to get only serving the city.

"They (the negotiators for city-county contracts) were just acting like children," said one of the paid firemen who wants to remain anonymous. "The only ones who are going topay for their problems and prejudices are the taxpayers and us."