MONTCLAIR, NJ - Montclair High School (MHS) students who are enrolled in the Career Internship program for seniors were presented with an eye opening lecture on May 31. Students were presented with an intense lesson about fire safety, life choices. and overcoming adversity.
After viewing the documentary, "After the Fire," which is the story of Alvero Llanos and Shawn Simmons, MHS students learned of the tragic events that unfolded for the freshman roommates at Boland Hall while they were attending Seton Hall University in South Orange. The film chronicles the events of that cold, horrific night and its aftermath in January 2000.
On May 24, Glen Ridge High School students received the same presentation.
As part of the Montclair Fire Department's outreach program on fire safety and awareness, Montclair Deputy Fire chief Robert Duncan stated, "We are pleased to bring this program back for a second year to the high school." He added that he sees the program as providing very important information as many seniors are preparing to graduate and attend college or other vocational training programs away from home.
The documentary spans through the events of January 19, 2000, where a prank turned into one of the worst fires in the history of Seton Hall and in the state of New Jersey. Three students died and over 56 students and fire fighters were injured.
This well documented story laid the ground work for major legislation to be passed in New Jersey, becoming the first state in the nation to establish sprinkler laws requiring all buildings on college campuses to have systems installed.
The story focuses on the bond established between these two victims and shares their confusion of not knowing what to do or where to go on that fateful morning in Boland Hall. Their confusion led them to crawl through a smoke filled hall in the wrong direction, directly into the area where the fire was heavy reaching temperatures of 1600 degrees hot enough to melt metal and flesh .
Lucky to be alive, they shared their story of survival and friendship. They also shared the struggle of wanting to give up, but because of their support system of family love, faith, top notch medical care, self determination and most importantly self love, they were able to pull through.
Llanos had to come to terms with having over 60% of his upper body and face burned. Simmons too received burns to his hands and face but not to the extent of Llanos. In his healing, he was there by Llanos' side in their long recuperation, together creating a brotherhood that is beyond being blood-related.
The presentation, graphic in detail, pushed home the importance of one knowing their surroundings, paying attention to all fire alarms and most importantly, finding the exits that are closest for emergency evacuation.
Had they crawled in the opposite direction they would have evacuated safely.
A question and answer period followed the 1-hour piece, with students asking questions pertaining to what they saw and what were the two thinking. The duo responded that their first thought was to get out of the building, but due to the past pranks with the alarm, they neglected to take it seriously.
Students also asked what happened to the two arsonists who were responsible. Both received 5 years, but only served a few months behind bars.
Many students left thinking about exits and taking seriously the documentary. Some students expressed how they plan to be more vigilant with noticing their surroundings and deciding what to do in the case of an emergency.
Simmons made these closing comments, "Students are not invincible. Danger exists on college campuses and not everyplace is safe. Know your surroundings and know what to do because fire has no prejudice."
To date, both men are married and raising families. They travel the nation lecturing to high school and college students to raise awareness of safety.
For more information go to www.alvaroandshawn.com.