City man describes pulling toddler out of fire

An Altoona man who braved an inferno to save a toddler from a second-floor bedroom Sunday had one thing on his mind as he climbed the steps and disappeared into thick, black smoke.

“If the baby was going to die, I was going to die, too,” Joel Kyle said Thursday while sitting at a picnic table on the back porch of his father’s Juniata home.

Kyle, 29, the father of a 4-year-old, said that he fought to stay conscious during the rescue of 23-month-old Giovanni Bongiorno at 2609 Maple Ave. about 4 p.m. Sunday.

Kyle said he was not going to give up. He was not not going to let the child he knew as “Baby-G” die without giving his maximum effort.

Altoona Fire Inspector Tim Hughes said Tuesday that Kyle “definitely needs to be recognized” for what he did.

Kyle has different thoughts.

“I didn’t think of it to be a hero,” he said.

“I’m just glad everybody made it out safe. I’m safe. It’s amazing,” said Kyle, explaining he never thought he would be in a situation like he found himself on a lazy Sunday afternoon in which he, and a friend, Kayla DiCapra, who lived at 2609 Maple, were watching a movie on television, and Kayla’s grandmother, Vicky Ickes, was in the home’s kitchen.

Giovanni Bongiorno, Kayla’s son, was resting in his second-floor crib.

The fire inspector found that a space heater had been on in a bedroom next to the child’s room. It was too close to a bed, and it caught the bedding on fire.

The fire spread through the room and caused an oxygen cylinder in a closet to explode, spilling the oxygen into the air and feeding the fire.

Kyle said, “We heard ‘BOOOM,'” using his hand to express how loud it was.

Until that explosion, nobody downstairs realized the home was burning.

The explosion was so loud that Ickes went to investigate, and neighbors at 2607 and 2611 came to their doors to find out what had just happened.

Ickes ran from the kitchen and spotted the smoke. She shouted, “Giovanni’s up there.” The toddler is her great-grandson.

“I’ll get him,” Kyle said, and he began running upstairs. What he didn’t do was take a breath before running into the smoke. When he did take a breath, he inhaled smoke.

With his insides burning, he continued forward. He couldn’t see anything but smoke and fire on the ceiling and to his sides.

He was able to easily push open the door to the child’s room, but he could not see the toddler. He knew the approximate location of the crib, and when he got there, he began feeling around.

The boy was not crying but was standing up. Kyle grabbed him and tucked the child’s face into this right shoulder next to his chest.

Kyle felt he was losing consciousness.

“My mind was telling me, ‘You’ve got to get out of here,'” he said.

“I just fought, fought my mind,” he continued.

He couldn’t believe how fast the fire was spreading.

Kyle, his adrenaline pumping, ran back through the flames and went down the steps, handing the child to Kayla.

He has known her since he was 14. They grew up together in the neighborhood with the Kyle family living on nearby Spruce Avenue.

“We were just neighborhood kids,” he said.

At UPMC Altoona where Kyle spent the next three hours, he was given oxygen and, he said, medical personnel reported his throat was black.

His hair had been singed. The baby’s hair was also singed, but the youngster was in better condition thanhe was, he said, laughing.

Despite having a seared throat, singed hair and a deep cough stemming from breathing the smoke, Kyle went to work earlier this week in the Scranton area, stringing wire for Comcast. He is employed by ADF Cable Constructing Corp. of Harrisburg.

He said his only thoughts during the ordeal was saving the child.

Even as he was pulling the child from the crib, he prepared himself for the worst.

“I’m certified for mouth-to-mouth. I was ready to do what I had to do. … If he was going to die, I was going to die, too,” he said.

Where the fire occurred is evident. Looking at the home Vicky Ickes lived in for 47 years from Maple Avenue everything appears normal. But the back of the home is coal black and destroyed.

Mirror Staff Writer Phil Ray is at 946-7468.