BY Anthony DiGennaro
On Oct. 2, the Human Journey Colloquia series presented an event called “After the Fire.” It discussed the events and the aftermath of a fire in a dorm at Seton Hall University in South Orange, N.J.
The presentation was held in the Edgerton Center and included two students, Shawn Simons and Alvaro Llanos, college roommates who survived the Seton Hall fire. They discussed the tragedy of the fire, the challenges they faced during the recovery, and how it affected their lives afterwards.
On Jan. 19, 2000, two weeks after the semester began, at about 4:30 a.m., the fire alarms were set off in Boland Hall the freshman residence hall at Seton Hall University.
Down the hall from their dorm, room 3028, Simons and Llanos faced a smoldering inferno that reached temperatures of about 1,600 degrees, which they had to crawl through to survive.
During the presentation, Simons tried to reimagine the heat of the fire for the audience, so they could understand the intensity.
“Imagine your oven being set to 400 degrees and you have to crawl through it, only it’s four times hotter than that,” said Simons.
Among those who were severely injured were Simons and Llanos. Simons said that about 16% of his body was burned after the events of the fire. He spent the following three weeks in a coma. Llanos said that he was burned on about 56% of his body after the events of the fire and spent three months in a coma.
Both Simons and Llanos were transported to St. Barnabas Medical Center Burn Unit in Livingston, N.J., with 56 other injured students and firefighters.
According to their website, www.alvaroandshawn.com, “Their story is one of survival, perseverance, inspiration, hope, courage and friendship. They inspire to motivate students and professionals that life will give you many obstacles. It’s how you overcome those obstacles by drawing strength, knowledge and motivation from those around you and from within.”
Three fellow students, Aaron Karol, John Giunta and Frank Catibolita, passed away that night.
A childhood friend of Aaron Karol started a nonprofit organization, Aspiring Kindness Foundation, in the three men’s honor. The foundation has raised more than $250,000, which has been put towards hosting annual events to raise money for first responders, emergency service providers, and fire prevention and education programs.
Sacred Heart’s fire marshal, Frank Novak, invited Simons and Llanos come here to speak to the university about fire safety.
“I wanted to offer a program for students to experience, first-hand, the importance of fire safety on a college campus,” said Novak. “College students have so much going on in their everyday lives and they don’t stop to think about their personal safety. Not only that, these two stories of survival are so important and can teach everyone that no matter what life throws at you, you should never give up.”
Freshman Abygail Hagley of Sacred Heart came to see the presentation because she is a nursing student and was curious about the recovery of Simons and Llanos following the fire.
“We just finished the integumentary system in anatomy, so we’re learning about the aftereffects of burn victims,” said Hagley. “I never would have thought to look right or left outside of a room, especially in an unfamiliar place, if, god forbid, a fire were to happen.”
“I hope the students have a better understanding of fire safety on a college campus,” said Novak. “I also hope that they have been inspired by Simons and Llanos to always push themselves to overcome the challenges and adversity that they may experience in their own lives.”