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Seton Hall fire survivors educate seniors on fire safety

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Seton Hall fire survivors educate seniors on fire safety

Alvaro Llanos and Shawn Simons, who presented

Alvaro Llanos and Shawn Simons, who presented "After the Fire", stand alongside members of the Hillsborough Fire Department.

Karen Bingert

Alvaro Llanos and Shawn Simons, who presented "After the Fire", stand alongside members of the Hillsborough Fire Department.

Karen Bingert

Karen Bingert

Alvaro Llanos and Shawn Simons, who presented "After the Fire", stand alongside members of the Hillsborough Fire Department.

Jenny Chen, Staff writer

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On Monday, Apr. 1, seniors gathered in the school auditorium to hear speakers Alvaro Llanos and Shawn Simons share their grueling experiences and journey to recovery with the tragedy that unfolded almost two decades ago.

At around 4:30 AM on Jan. 19, 2000, an arson fire was started in the third-floor lounge of freshman dorm Boland Hall at Seton Hall University in South Orange, New Jersey. Unlike the thirty or more false fire alarms that sounded that semester, this one was real. Because of the excessive alarms, the students ignored the warning and delayed evacuation. Among the freshmen were roommates Llanos and Simons.

Due to an absence of sprinklers installed in the freshman dorms, the fire rapidly grew in size. By the time the two registered the threat, the halls leading to the exits approached temperatures of up to 1600 degrees Fahrenheit. In less than five minutes, the blaze engulfed ceiling tiles, sofas, and anything that obstructed its path of destruction.

Although Llanos and Simons were able to reach safety, both suffered from excruciating third-degree burns and smoke inhalation upon rescue. Simons withstood burns on 16% of his body while Llanos encountered 56%.

Their road to recovery was long and painful. It was physically, emotionally, and mentally demanding, but the two stood by each other till the end.

After the incident, legislation at Seton Hall was put in place with the hope that safety systems and awareness might prevent loss of life and injury in other fires that happen in congested dormitory situations. Llanos and Simons now travel to high schools and universities across America to promote fire safety and to share their extraordinary story.

Here at HHS, Llanos and Simons taught students about critical fire safety procedures such as staying low to the ground, where oxygen is abundant, and always being aware of the environment and possible emergency exits in enclosed areas. 

The Seton Hall fire caused three casualties and severely injured four others. The tragedy shook the community to its core and caused unbearable heartbreak, but it formed an inseparable bond between two survivors, a lifelong friendship.

“The assembly taught me the real effects of losing a loved one in an incident that could be completely preventable,” senior Daniella Princiotta said. “The whole experience made me never want to be in that position or put somebody through the pain of losing a loved one due to my actions.”

Princiotta was not the only one left in awe by the assembly. Later that day, seniors took to Instagram to express gratitude and adoration.

“Thank you guys so much for sharing your story with all of us. It was really interesting to hear from someone so majorly impacted become so strong and accepting,” senior Christina Androulakis said. “I will definitely spread your story and your message to people who are in need of the knowledge to keep themselves safe wherever they go.”

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Seton Hall fire survivors educate seniors on fire safety