Most of the time, Bradley Lane in Chevy Chase is a peaceful hump-backed country road. If a fire engine roars up behind you there with lights flashing and siren roaring, you'll know it.

The other night, I knew it. I was following a blue Pontiac west on Bradley, between Connecticut Avenue and Wisconsin, when here in my rear view mirror came a huffing, puffing, earsplitting piece of fire apparatus. I pulled over. The Pontiac did, too. And the fire engine zoomed past -- on its way, no doubt, to a 15-alarm biggie or a seven-car smashup.

But seconds later, when the Pontiac and I reached the light at Bradley and Wisconsin, we couldn't believe our eyes. There's a fire house on the southwest corner of that intersection, and a certain fire engine was backing peacefully inside.

The Pontiac driver pulled alongside me, rolled down his window and shouted:

"Must have been a hell of a fire he was going to!"

"I'll bet he was in a hurry to get back to his tacos before they got cold," I called back. "Or maybe he was missing the Orioles game on TV." We exchanged whatcha-gonna-do shrugs, and drove off.

But was there another side to what we'd seen? Dimly, I recalled a letter I'd gotten several months earlier. The next day, I hunted through a moldy file, and found what I was looking for.

The writer was Adam B. Pegler of Gaithersburg, who's a paramedic for the Rockville Volunteer Fire Department. Adam's unit was at Shady Grove Adventist Hospital in Gaithersburg one day when he received a radio call to report to South Rockville -- several miles away.

Adam immediately flicked on his siren and emergency lights and began jumping red lights all along Shady Grove Road. However, by the time he reached Rte. 355, the dispatcher had advised him by radio that he was no longer needed in South Rockville. So Adam flicked off the lights and siren and continued the trip back to his station at the same speed as the rest of the traffic.

A few blocks later, a woman pulled alongside and began cursing Adam out. In between obscenities, she accused Adam of "cold taco-ism" -- using his emergency equipment to get back to the firehouse faster, not because he was responding to a call.

Adam decided to follow this woman so he could explain what had happened. A few blocks further on, the woman stopped to pick up a child at a sitter's house. That gave Adam his chance.

He spent several minutes explaining that he had been taken out of service en route to a call, that he'd never abuse his emergency equipment and that he didn't think name-calling was in order.

"Did we receive a tearful apology?" asks Adam. "A heartfelt apology? A polite apology?" None of the above. The woman hoisted up the baby, glared nastily at Adam and drove off without a word.

The clincher came from the babysitter: "You followed her all the way here just to tell her that?" she asked. "You really must be an %&* 3/4 $."

I'm not going to tell you that no fireman has ever abused his emergency equipment. But I am going to tell you that what seems to be an abuse may not be. If you leap to conclusions, the person whose abusing fairness is you.