Scott's full complement of firetrucks and ambulances stood ready for action, carefully backed into place across the floor by his bed. The only thing missing was a Dalmatian; the only hotter scene would be a life-size firehouse. We chose the Bethesda-Chevy Chase Rescue Squad on Battery Lane.

Critically eyeing the trophy-laden lobby, Scott, 4 1/2, met volunteer Ken Kuntz and stepped behind the scenes to see the squad's high-tech, glossy, miracle-working machinery. It wasn't quite what he'd expected.

The dispatcher's office is a "Star Wars" array of buttons and flashing lights with a red phone to the Emergency Operating Center in Rockville, where all "911" calls go.

"We need a crew to save a life," intoned the Saturday-morning volunteer, spicing his intercom spiel for our benefit. We were ushered through the rec room, kitchen, laundry and dining room to the upstairs quarters for 15 live-in staffers. All volunteers have 12-hour night shifts, 7 to 7, (until becoming life members after 10 years' duty), so there's lots of time for weight-lifting and TV watching. "It's like a fraternity atmosphere," said Lt. John McDonough, an eight year veteran.

Rows of bunks, and a squadron of tall boots, lifeless pants and suspenders, waiting for heroes to jump into them. Then there was the pole in the corner . . .

The pole! Scott wouldn't get too close, but he was clearly fascinated by it and its hole in the floor. "Now that's something," he allowed. And back downstairs he made the connection to the pole where rescuers drop down through the hole in the ceiling.

In the garage, Kuntz regaled us with state-of-the-art equipment: newfangled ambulance, mobile intensive-care and paramedic units; scene lights, gas masks for toxic fumes, air bags, auto extrication devices, ropes, torches, rescue tools in case of a building collapse, more electric lines and lights -- ("accidents always seem to happen in the middle of the night") -- pulleys and smoke ejectors, all tucked inside a succession of compartments that Kuntz patiently opened and closed as we moved around the truck.

Scott wasn't unnerved by the description of the high-pressure Hurst hydraulic tool. Optimistically called the "jaws of life," it can snip and cut apart cars with five tons of force, on the way to rescuing accident victims. Where a 4 1/2-year-old pictures heroes saving lives, grownups are saddled with visions of victims. But on to air tanks, compressors, 17,500 watt generators and giant lamps -- at least $100,000 worth of white rescue truck. "These don't look like fire engines to me," Scott said, taking no substitutes for the fire-engine red image he'd brought from home.

"Fireman, what's in those windows up there?" Scott asked, pointing to the top of the truck. "The room you didn't want to go into when I asked if you wanted to climb inside." At the height of the tour, Scott had declined to sit in the driver's seat, although he asked Kuntz to haul himself up there.

Kuntz moved on to the mobile canteen and equipment trucks, which accompany the unit on major runs. The squad answers more than 20 calls a day, 700 a month, from routine checks to major fires and accidents. The staff of about a hundred volunteers -- a dozen or so of them women -- has five ambulances, two heavy-duty rescue trucks and one mobile intensive-care unit that looks like an ambulance, plus several utility trucks.

"But there's no hook-and-ladder here," Scott protested.

As if one cue, a classic red fire truck from the nearby Bethesda Fire Department pulled into the black lot to pick up oxygen tanks. It was Little Boy Heaven: hoses, sparkling silver appointments on a mile-long red fire engine complete with lights flashing and firemen making a fuss. In the garage, intercom beeps and tones filled the air, and raincoats and real fireman hats lined the walls.

So tell us, Scott. What do you want to be when you grow up?

"A policeman, a fireman or a garbageman," he replied. You'd think the hat would have made the difference.