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In the early morning hours of January 19, 2000, the lives of thousands or maybe even millions
were changed as a result of a great tragedy. On the campus of Seton Hall University in South
Orange, New Jersey, while most of the more than 600 freshman slept, an arson fire was started
in the 3rd-floor lounge of the 6-sto freshmen residence hall, Boland Hall. As the fire alarms
wailed, must students thought it was just another false fire alarm, like the 30 or more false
alarms that sounded the semester before. No one had any idea that there was a real fire, lat
alone where the fire was or how to get out of harms way.
Alvaro Llanos and Shawn Simons, 18 year old roommates at the time, thought it was just
another false fire alarm as well. As they took their time getting dressed, they had no idea what
was simmering down the hall from their room 3028 in the 3rd-floor lounge. An inferno was
brewing at temperatures near 1600 degre and burning down anything in its path: sofas,
carpets, ceiling tile. As Shawn and Alvaro opened their room door, a burst of black smoke forced
itself into their room, c using them to quickly shut the door. Reverting to childhood education
About fire, they got down on their hands and knees, opened the door and were swallowed by the black smoke in the hallway.
Scared and disoriented, they crawled into the direction that they were accustomed to going, not knowing that they were crawling right into the fire. If they had W n1 to their nearest exit, a stairwell they rarely used, there was the possibility that they could have escaped the building without injury. l!11fortunately, they went towards the elevators that they used every single day and was met by the fierceness of the blaze.
Losi11g each other in the blackened hallway, Shawn crawled right through and past the fire, but not without his hands taking on third degree burns as his palms stuck to the sweltering floor tiles as he pushed for safety. He also suffered first and second degree burns to his head and face, bringing his perceniage of budy burned to 16% and an insurmountable amount of smoke inhalation. Alvaro, unfo unately encountered a worst scenario. As he pproached the burning lounge, Alvaro saw a glimmer of light from the stairwell adjacent to the lounge. As he stood up to push the door open, a firebull erupted from the burning ceiling tiles, igniting his coat and caused third degree burns from his head to his torso. As he tumbled out into the hallw«y still ablaz&, two resident assistants were able to extinguish the fire out on Alvaro, but not before encountering burns on 56% of his body.
Shawn and Alvaro were transported to St. Barnabas Medical Center Burn Unit in Livingston, NJ along with 56 other injured students and firefighters. Shawn and Alvaro were among the 4 victims who were severely burned and left clinging for life. Tragically, Shawn and Alvaro lost 3 fellow cl ssmates. Aaron Karol, John Guinta and Frank Catibolita perished that dreadful night. The cause would later be revealed a result of arson of two
of their other freshman classmates who set a banner on a bulletin board on fire as a drunken prank.
Shawn endured months of physical and occupational therapy, while Alvaro's recovery process took years. Not only was it a physical toll on Alvaro and Shawn, but it was a mental and emotional roller coaster as well. Learning to have to deal with being comfortable in their new 'burned" skin was mission all in itself to overcome.
Alviro and Shawn talk more about their ordeal of being college burn su ivors nationally at many colleges and high schools across the country. They a'so speak at conferences as well as at fire safety training or firefighting seminars. eir motive is to be advocates for fire safety and prevention so that no other students will have to endure the pain that they suffered. Also, they strive to be the voice of many burn survivors across the country who may feel "trapped in their new skin.'
Their story is one of survival, perserverence, in i tion, 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. With these tools in life's endeavors they prove that there is life "Afterer the Fire."
Shawn & Alva