Electrical foreman Paul Lambert has been a Fairfax County employe for eight years, and thinks that "you couldn't have a better employer."

"I'm going to retire from this job," says the 26-year-old Lambert. "They're going to have to run me off with a stick."

To Lambert, a high school graduate who became a licensed journeyman electrician in 1979 and a foreman two years later, the county has been "a guardian angel." Laid off by a Manassas contractor during the construction slump of 1974, he "got really lucky" and landed a temporary CETA job, moving into a permanent slot a year later.

The county paid for Lambert's apprenticeship through adult education courses at Woodson High. The county also supplies all his tools, his uniform of white shirts and blue trousers, and launders them once a week, and even buys him a pair of heavy leather boots every year. Advancement is swift, says Lambert, the job is secure and overtime is frequent.

"I've got a friend my age who works for the union, and he probably makes $4,000 or $5,000 more a year than I do," says Lambert, a New Hampshire native who moved here when he was eight. "But you have to think about the benefits, and the layoffs. I mean, he makes $16 or $17 an hour, but from last December to about June, he didn't work."

Lambert, whose base salary is roughly $20,000, is foreman for the block that houses the Fairfax County Judicial Center, the Massey Building, police headquarters and a juvenile detention center.

He says it still means something to be a public servant. "I think my friends have a certain amount of respect for what I do," he says. In turn, says Lambert, he owes the county a respect. He keeps his hair fairly short and his beard neat.

"I'm surprised at the way some people present themselves, you know? You have to have a little bit of manners to work around here."