Neighbors can't remember Albert Blassengale ever missing a day of school - until Tuesday.

But the tarnish on his attendance record is the least of the 10-year-old's concerns. After inhaling smoke from a Monday night fire in his North Philadelphia rowhouse, Albert is clinging to life at Children's Hospital of Philadelphia.

His father, Jerry Blassengale, who is in his early 50s, was in critical condition at the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania. He, too, suffered smoke inhalation while trying to save his son, neighbors said. Passersby ultimately helped both escape.

A neighbor and friend, Quielile Bing, sat across the street from Albert's smoke-damaged house in the 1800 block of North 27th Street on Tuesday afternoon, anxiously awaiting news - any news. A few years older and a few inches taller than Albert, Quielile still loves playing basketball and football with Albert, after his younger pal finishes his homework.

Quielile's mother, Barbara Giles, said the pair hangs out often. "Even if no one will play with Albert, he'll just throw the football to himself. Albert stays to himself most of the time. He has a good personality, but he's respectful; he never messes with anybody. He's a good boy," she said.

A fifth-grade student at Gideon School, Albert gets A's and B's and is known as a chess whiz.

"He's so smart. He wants to be a lawyer," said his stepmother, Deborah Leatherberry. "He's just cool."

Just days ago, Albert advanced from being a Cub Scout to joining the Boy Scouts of America, neighbors said.

Fire officials, who said the cause of the blaze is still under investigation, reported that Albert had no vital signs when he was taken to the hospital about 10 p.m. Monday.

According to neighbors, Albert's favorite wrestling action figures are at his bedside.