Seton Hall Fire Survivors Share their Story

Written by on February 17, 2020

By Sabrina Hajsok

On February 12th, 2020, Shawn Simons and Alvaro Llanos returned to Montclair State University to share their story and to promote awareness to fire safety. The two men were victims of the Seton Hall University fire that occurred just over 20 years ago in Boland Hall. Shawn and Alvaro were freshman roommates who had only known each other for five months. On January 19th, 2000, the two young men suffered from a life-changing dormitory fire, that left them with 3rd degree burns all over their bodies. The fire started after two drunk fraternity boys set fire to a paper banner in the lounge on the third floor in the middle of the night. It was around 4:30 in the morning when the two gentlemen decided to pull this “prank,” while most students were sleeping. Three teenage boys, Aaron Karol, Frank Caltabilota, and John Giunta, died because of this man-made fire. As well as, 56 others who were injured, including students, police officers, and firefighters.

After the incident, Shawn Simons and Alvaro Llanos both spent years in the hospital. Alvaro was in a coma for 3 months and went through over 30 surgeries. It took a little over 5 years for Alvaro to fully recover. Shawn’s condition was not quite as severe as Alvaro’s, being that he was in a coma for 2 weeks and had an overall faster recovery. In the documentary about the Seton Hall fire in 2000, After the Fire: A True Story of Heroes and Cowards, it shows how supportive of a friend Shawn was to Alvaro. Shawn never left Alvaro’s side and was there through thick and thin. The one positive outcome of the fire was that the two formed a bond that has lasted to this day and will most likely last forever. As well as, the fire safety laws that were placed in New Jersey and in three other states that made it mandatory to have sprinklers in all college and university resident halls.

Today, Shawn and Alvaro travel to different schools, colleges, and universities all over the country to spread fire safety awareness and to share their story. They give tips to students that they wish they could have been given before they experienced and lived through the Seton Hall University fire. Then maybe, they would have escaped with fewer injuries. The first tip they give for students who live in a residence hall is to be aware of how many doors there are from their room to the nearest exit. In a fire, the smoke can get so thick, to the point where it is hard to see what is a foot in front of you. A student who knows how many doors there are to the closest exit will have a higher chance of getting out faster and with lesser injuries. If they were ever in a fire, they could just feel the wall and count the doors to get to the exit if they could not see through the dark smoke. This is one of the many pieces of advice that Shawn Simons and Alvaro Llanos give in their presentation. Their goal is to educate others, which will hopefully have a positive impact on students and adults all over the world if they are ever put in the event of a fire.