Like many little boys, Noah Applebaum used to wave in awe whenever a sparkling red fire truck roared by.
But Applebaum, 18, never got over his fireman phase, so two years ago he signed up for the Los Angeles Fire Department’s Cadet program, and today he is a badge-wearing cadet, sleeping at Fire Station No. 94 in the Crenshaw District most weekends, training junior cadets and riding along on calls to help firefighters at the scene.
He’s already got a full uniform. He asked for, but didn’t get, an ax for Chanukah, and when he talks about his work, he speaks with the military seriousness of a fireman.
“At first I wanted to be a fireman because I wanted to be a hero; I wanted to save lives. But now it’s more that I actually want to help people. I don’t care about the title. I just want to give the best-quality care I can give to the people of Los Angeles,” said Applebaum, a senior at Milken Community High School.
Applebaum also plays drums at Sinai Temple services, is on Milken’s varsity tennis team and snowboards. He said most of his fellow students don’t know about his life in the fire department.
He is a certified EMT (emergency medical technician) and can suit up in 75 pounds of gear in less than a minute.
But it’s not all about being a superhero.
Story continues after the jump
“The first thing I learned to do when I got here was to scrub toilets,” he said. He gets to the station at 5:15 a.m. to make the coffee, elbows his way to the sink to do the dinner dishes and always steps in to carry a ladder or a medical bag.
“I want to show them that I want to learn. I always want to be doing something — I’m not there to sit around,” he said.
Applebaum, who lives in Cheviot Hills, trained for eight months to get ride-along certified, putting in more than the required five hours every weekend to physically train, drill in operations, study the inventory of the rigs and learn about the LAFD.
Most of the other cadets he now helps train come from the surrounding neighborhood — an area of gang activity and high crime.
“A lot of them come to the fire station to get put in line. It’s not just about firefighting, it’s learning about respecting your elders, it’s teaching the basic military principles that will help you in life,” Applebaum said.
Most of the calls the station gets are medical, and some have opened Applebaum’s eyes.
The teen responded to a scene where a car ran a red light and T-boned another car, sending it flipping over and into a brick wall. He helped set up the Jaws of Life to extricate the victim, and then stood by with a fire hose in case a fire erupted.
“Seeing someone’s face half split open with blood all over — no one likes seeing that. But we have to get what we call tunnel vision — you’ve got to take a step back and remember your operations and do your job,” Applebaum said.
Cadets aren’t allowed into burning structures, so Applebaum does whatever is needed outside the building —throwing ladders, hooking up hoses and executing forcible entry.
He is planning to go to college next year and to serve as a volunteer firefighter, but he’s also enticed by the idea of getting hired now by the LAFD, and going to school while he is working.
“What I’ve realized is that, for me, it’s not about making money. Some people want to make millions, and to me that is not important. It’s how can I provide the best care the next time I go out on a call. How can I make someone’s life better.”