Meet the Pizza Man Who Saved 5 Kids from a House Fire

Nick Bostic was troubled, aimless. Then one night, everything changed.

Illustration of Bostic looking at the burning houseSteven P. Hughes for Reader's Digest

At first, it was almost imperceptible—a faint orange light at the edge of his vision as Nick Bostic drove down the streets of Lafayette, Indiana. Bostic rolled past the two-story house before he could process what he was seeing. Then he slammed on the brakes. Oh my god, he thought. That house is on fire.

It hadn’t been Bostic’s best night, but it hadn’t been his worst either. The 25-year-old—burly and 6-foot-3, with a messy beard that often framed a puckish grin—was still figuring out how to make his way through a life that hadn’t always been easy. Bostic had spent his childhood shuttling back and forth between his mom in Lafayette and his dad in Arkansas, with neither home ­providing the love and safety he needed.

If you’d asked his friends to describe him as a kid, Bostic says, they’d probably have said “a fool.” He got into trouble, acted like an idiot, tried to use humor to make friends but never quite got it right.

As he got older, his troubles got more serious. Bostic began using methamphetamines. He lost friends to suicide. At times, his own life didn’t feel worth living. But over the past few years, he had started to turn things around. He’d quit hard drugs. He had a girlfriend, Kara Lewis, and was working at a Papa Johns making pizzas. If people around Lafayette had to describe him now, they might say he was a guy with a big heart who maybe didn’t know exactly what to do with it.

“Hey, help, the house is on fire!”

That night, July 11, 2022, Bostic had had a petty squabble with Lewis and he’d stormed out of their apartment, leaving his phone behind so she couldn’t contact him. He filled up her car with gas, then smoked some weed in an auto-parts store parking lot; he liked to go there when he needed to be alone. He looked up at the stars and sat in silence for 15 minutes or so. Then he decided to head home. He was on the road back to the apartment just after midnight, when he saw the house on fire.

Bostic threw the car into reverse and whipped it into the driveway. Flames were climbing up the front porch, lapping at the home’s walls. Hurrying out of the vehicle, he immediately regretted not having his phone. “Hey, help, the house is on fire!” he yelled into the night. A car drove past and Bostic tried to flag it down, to no avail.

He ran around to the back door, sure it would be locked. To his amazement, it swung open. Without pausing to think about the danger, Bostic ran into the burning building.

The night that changed everything

It was date night for the Barretts, and in a large family, date night was important.

The Barrett family was a lively bunch. They went to church on Sundays, and the five-bedroom, two-story house they rented was always full of yelling and laughter, with friends and family ­coming by for cookouts and sleepovers and volleyball games out back.

That night, four of the six Barrett kids were at home when David, a 39-year-old assistant principal at Tecumseh Junior High School, and his wife, Tiera, went out to play darts down the street. Seionna, their 18-year-old daughter, was in charge. She was taking care of Kaleia, her 1-1/2-year-old sister. Shaylee, 13, was in the house with a friend. And Kaylani, 6, was roaming from room to room, looking for someone to fall asleep with.

"Seionna remembered waking to what sounded like an explosion."

Kaylani hated sleeping alone. The animated little girl was so curious and trusting that David was always worried she’d just run off with a stranger. That night she walked into Seionna’s bedroom on the ground floor asking if she could climb into bed with her big sister. But Seionna wasn’t feeling well, and she had to work in the morning. So she told her sister to go to her own room, that they could sleep together tomorrow.

The next thing Seionna remembered was waking to what sounded like an explosion. Later, officials would find that the fire had started on the porch and then caused a propane tank next to their grill to explode. But in the moment, Seionna knew only that there was smoke in her room. The living room next door was on fire, and she could feel the flames’ heat on her skin. Is this a dream? she thought. Then a horrifying realization: I have to get the kids.

Seionna sprinted up the stairs, grabbed Kaleia out of her crib and hurried to the next door, where Shaylee and her friend were sound asleep.

"He searched under the bunk bed and inside the closet. No kid."

“Wake up, wake up!” she yelled.

When she got to Kaylani’s room, however, the bed was empty. The 6-year-old was nowhere to be found. A horrible realization hit Seionna. Kaylani sometimes liked to sleep in the living room. And the living room was on fire.

Saving the Barrett household

The curtains were melting. That was just one of the surreal things Nick Bostic noticed as he ran through the hallway of the burning house, peering into rooms that were in flames and searching to see if anyone was home.

With the ground floor seemingly clear, Bostic headed for the staircase. He had just started climbing when he looked up and saw four faces emerge from a room at the top of the stairs and peer down at him, their eyes wide.

“Your house is on fire, you need to go!” Bostic yelled.

The girls came pouring down the stairs, Bostic hurrying them along. They all rushed out into the fresh air, where they huddled in a circle.

“Is there anybody else in there?” Bostic asked.

“There’s a baby in there!” Seionna screamed, referring to Kaylani. But neither she nor any of the kids knew where the 6-year-old was.

Without hesitating, Bostic ran back inside.

By now, the whole side of the house was in flames. The smell was foul and intense, like nothing he’d ever encountered. Black smoke was gathering at the ceiling, then billowing down toward him. The temperature was intense, a whoosh of pure heat that hit him like a physical object.

Illustration of Bostic looking up the stairs at the Barrett familySteven P. Hughes for Reader's Digest

Bostic went upstairs. Everything looked eerily normal, with no sign that a fire was raging so near. He searched under the bunk bed and in the closet. No kid. He searched the other upstairs bedrooms and listened intently, surprised he couldn’t hear a single cry.

Kaylani didn’t seem to be on the second floor, so Bostic prepared to head back down. But the smoke was thick now—black and opaque, a curtain of poison that had climbed all the way to the top of the stairs. He lifted his T-shirt, doubling it up and trying to cover his mouth and nose, as he hesitated at the top of the stairs. Then he heard the crying from the dark smoke below.

Bostic stumbled down the stairs and into the blackness, choking on smoke. He was on a search-and-rescue mission, his ears alert as he tried his best to move toward the sound, arm outstretched. Then suddenly Kaylani was in front of him. Bostic quickly lifted the girl into his arms and looked for the door.

But in the smoke and heat, he was all turned around. He stumbled through the burning house, trying to find the exit. Where is the front door?! Disoriented, the only things he could see through the haze were the lights leading upstairs, like lanterns in a fog.

Bostic climbed back up. At the top, he tripped and fell. With the fire all around them, he thought: We’re goners. But he managed to pull himself up, Kaylani still in his arms. Bostic remembered seeing a window on the side of the house where the fire hadn’t reached, and that’s where he headed.

He made it to the room and began tearing the curtains and blinds from the window. Kaylani’s ankle became entangled in a cord, so he slowed down.

When the curtains and blinds were on the floor, Bostic—never loosening his grip on the little girl—punched the glass with his right hand. His fist bounced off. For his next punch, he reached back with everything he had. His fist smashed through the window, cutting up his arm as a gust of glorious fresh air filled the room. Then he quickly knocked the shards out of the frame.

Illustration of Bostic and Kaylani jumping out of a broken windowSteven P. Hughes for Reader's Digest

As the flames advanced behind them, Bostic and Kaylani looked at the open space. Below, a strip of grass lay between this house and the next one’s wooden fence. The girl peered down.

“I don’t want to jump out the window,” she said. He was thinking the exact same thing.

But they had little choice. The flames were inching ever closer, and the heat was intensifying. Bostic took a few steps backward. Then, without letting himself think much about what awaited them, he ran forward and threw himself out of the window.

And as he flew headlong through the air, holding Kaylani tightly in one arm, he twisted and contorted his body so as to land on the other shoulder and cushion her fall. Then they hit the ground.

“Is the baby OK?”

Outside, the firefighters had arrived. They hurried Seionna and the rest of the kids away from the house, which was now engulfed in flames. “Six-year-old female and 23-year-old male, possibly inside,” a firefighter called out as they rushed to put on their equipment.

"Gasping for air, Bostic asked, 'Is the baby ok? Tell me the baby is ok.'"

Then Bostic came stumbling out from the side of the house, Kaylani in his arms. “Take her,” he yelled, the moment captured by the firefighters’ body cameras. He handed over the girl—crying, but miraculously uninjured, apart from a cut on her arm—before collapsing on the sidewalk calling for oxygen.

Gasping for air, the house crumbling behind him, he had only one thing on his mind: “Is the baby OK?” he asked. “Please tell me the baby’s OK.”

The minutes, hours and days that followed are a blur for Bostic. He remembers the paramedics pulling the tourniquet tight around the arm he’d cut punching through the window. He remembers being wheeled into the ambulance, but he doesn’t remember being transferred to the hospital, where he was treated for smoke inhalation and first-degree burns to his ankle, leg and arm.

When Bostic woke up, it was with a tube down his throat and his girlfriend by his side. In bed, he thought about what had happened. He felt that he’d just done what anyone would have done in that situation. But outside the hospital, the story of Nick Bostic was already spreading. He was a hero—the pizza man who had run into a burning building not once, but twice.

Lives changed forever

A few days later, after Bostic had been released from the hospital, the Barretts invited him and Lewis to dinner at the house where they were staying. David wanted to thank the man who had saved his family in person.

The moment David saw Bostic, he started crying. “He walked up to me with his arms open and held me tightly and thanked me,” says Bostic. “All he could say was ‘thank you, thank you.’ ”

Clockwise from top left: A firefighter's bodycam showing Bostic and Kaylani; the destroyed house; Bostic recovering; Kaylani (with red bow) and her familyClockwise from top left: Courtesy of Lafayette Police Department. WXIN Fox 59 News. Dave Bangert. Courtesy of the Barrett Family
Clockwise from top left: A firefighter’s bodycam showing Bostic and Kaylani; the destroyed house; Bostic recovering; Kaylani (with pink bow) and her family

That week they asked Bostic to come to church with them. And then they had him back to dinner, again and again.

“I feel like God used him as a tool,” says David. “And I feel like God is using me as a tool to help him as well.”

The Barretts are still pulling their lives together after losing everything they owned. The fire has brought them even closer as a family and closer to their community, which came together to shelter and feed them while they looked for a new home.

Kaylani, who emerged from the fire with nothing more than a minor cut on her arm, has become delirious with a sense of fame and bravado. “She thinks of herself as a hero,” says David. “The first thing she says when she meets someone is ‘I was in a fire, and I jumped out a window.’ ”

Bostic’s burns have mostly healed, though he finds his eyes have been sensitive to light since the fire. The other changes have been far greater. Bostic and Lewis are expecting a child. And as news about his heroism spread, a GoFundMe account for his hospital bills exploded, reaching some $600,000—a life-changing amount of money.

Bostic offered the Barrett family some of it to help them get their lives back on track, but David was firm. That was Bostic’s money. He should support his child and use that gift to spend time with his family. Then he introduced the now-26-year-old to a financial adviser.

When Bostic thinks about what happened, it somehow feels like both a near-death experience and a rebirth. Even though he was the one who ran into a burning building, it’s as if he was the one who was rescued.

“I feel like a different person. Like I got a second chance,” he says. If in the past he’d sometimes felt like a fool, that wasn’t how he saw himself now. Life hadn’t been easy. He knew the future, too, would be difficult. “But I’m starting to find my purpose,” he says. For the first time, he’s sure he’ll figure it out.

Reader's Digest
Originally Published in Reader's Digest