Fall Church's 100-foot ladder truck is the "Cadillac" of fire trucks, local firefighters say. Yet it is hardly ever used because of staffing problems.

The truck, which was purchased in 1973 for $100,000, is stationed at 6929 Lee Highway. The station and its equipment are owned by the Falls Church volunteer firefighters but are manned by professional Arlington firefighters that Falls Church helps support. The station responds to calls in Falls Church and Arlington.

The truck, however, has been caught in the middle, because after Falls Church bought it, Arlington refused to increase the manpower at the station to support its use. Therefore, it can be used only when Falls Church wolunteers go on active duty.

Arlington Asst. Fire Chief H. E. Wood estimated that the truck has been used about 50 times in the past three years. According to county figures, the rest of the engine company at the station is used in more than 700 calls a year.

Wood said Arlington would have to hire 12 additional men to handle the truck on an around-the-clock, yearly schedule.

According to Eugene Beach, chief of the Falls Church volunteers, when the city bought the truck it had a "gentlemen's agreement" with Arlington's then fire chief, J. H. Clements, to provide more men for the station. But Arlington provided an extra man for only about four months, he said.

Wood said, however, that personnel changes in the fire department administration has caused a "new thinking in the county." Arlington can't justify the added expense of manning the truck because four other ladder trucks are within easy response distance to Falls Church, Wood said.

Fall Church City Manager Harry E. Wells said that although "we've always been satisfied with the fire coverage in Falls Church," the city would like to have the truck manned. But Falls Church cannot afford to increase its portion of the station cost to cover the extra men, he said.

Although no one claims the absence of the truck has caused any injuries, it remains largely unused even though both Arlington and Falls Church firefighters say it is one of the finest trucks in the metropolitan area. Falls Church has refused to let Arlington move the truck to another station or buy it, so Arlington bought two new trucks, which are not as well equipped, for about $165,000 each this year, Wood said.

City Manager Wells said Falls Church has refused offers to sell the truck, which the volunteers estimate has a replacement value of $210,000, because it may need the truck someday if the current firefighting arrangement with Arlington is discontinued. CAPTION: Picture, Falls Church $100,000 fire truck remains largely unused even though firefighters say it's one of the finest trucks in the area. By Ellsworth Davis - The Washington Post