By Amanda Campanaro
It was January 19, 2000. Students at Seton Hall University in New Jersey were sleeping when a fire alarm went off. Shawn Simons and Alvaro Llanos, freshman roommates at the time, thought the alarm was a drill, and took their time getting up and out. The result was severe for both of them.
“We didn’t do it in a timely manner I mean, it took me a couple of minutes to wake Al up, it took us a couple of minutes to get dressed,” Simons said, one of the survivors of the fire who came on Wednesday to speak at the Student Union Theater on the University of Connecticut Storrs campus.
They presented “After the Fire,” a documentary and NY Times bestselling novel about the fire in 2000 that claimed three lives and injured 58 more. The two survivors of the fire have made it their profession to travel to schools across the country discussing their story, and the ways students and schools can work together to increase safety in a similar event.
“When you’re educated you can say, you know what, let me think about this before I react,” Simons said. “We weren’t really educated to the point.”
Simons sustained burns covering 16 percent of his body and took several months of physical therapy to recover. Alvaro Llanos sustained third degree burns over 56 percent of his body, and was in a coma for three months. Since then, the two have made miraculous recoveries.
Lieutenant Heidi Vaughan of the UConn Fire Department said this event resulted in major changes to fire safety on college campuses across the country.
“I think this brings awareness for fire safety on campus. And how important it is to practice fire safety in the dormitories and residence halls. It also brings awareness of fire sprinkler systems and fire alarm systems, and how important they are to universities,” Vaughan said.
Evacuation plans are code required at UConn. There are fire evacuation plans on backs of doors in residence halls, as well as required sprinklers, but back in 1977 there weren’t.
Simons said: “One of the things that we do is we go down to Capitol Hill in DC every year and we go speak to legislators and tell them our story, and tell them the importance of them passing that law, specifically in New Jersey and the risk of something tragic happening at another school in another state.”
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