In The Schools

Survivors of Deadly Dorm Fire Bring Message of Courage and Perseverance to Summit High School Seniors

Annette Dwyer (SST) Chief Eric Evers (SFD), Alvaro Llano, Shawn Simons, Amy Herber (SHS); Back, SFD firefighters Joe Moschello, Dpty. Chief Don Nelson, Bat. Chief Rick Locke, Jeff Faulks and Tom Penn. Credits: Summit Public Schools Photo Services

SUMMIT, NJ - In the early morning hours of January 19, 2000, a fire swept through Boland Hall -- a six-story freshman residence hall -- on the campus of Seton Hall University. The blaze, intentionally set as a 'prank', killed three young men and injured 56 students and firefighters, several critically. Tragically, as the fire alarms wailed, most students ignored them, thinking it was just another of the more than 30 false alarms they had experienced the semester before.

Two of the Hall's residents, Alvaro Llanos and Shawn Simons, were then 18 year-old roommates. They survived the incident, but both suffered life-threatening injuries, including first-, second- and third-degree burns, with Simons requiring months of physical and occupational therapy while Llanos' recovery lasting years. 

The cause of the fire was found to be arson, with two drunken freshman igniting the blaze for lighting a banner in a third-floor lounge on fire. The story of the incident and Llanos' and Simons' journey to recovery is at the center of After The Fire, A True Story of Heroes and Cowards, a film by Guido Verweyen inspired by the Pulitzer Prize story & New York Times bestseller by Robin G. Fisher.

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Through a collaboration between the Summit Fire Department, Shaping Summit Together -- which funded the program -- and Summit High School, the senior class hears Llanos and Simons share their story of survival, perseverance, inspiration, hope, courage and friendship. The presentation serving to inspire and motivate students and professionals alike that, while life will provide many obstacles, "It's how you overcome those obstacles by drawing strength, knowledge and motivation from those around you."

In addition, Summit Fire Chief Eric Evers also addressed the students, relaying vital fire safety awareness tips and information as many prepare to head off to college, including what to be mindful of regarding living in the dorms, attending concerts, and visiting unfamiliar clubs. Chief Evers developed a Campus Safety flyer that also includes fire safety tips for seniors. The information was sent to all parents through the Naviance website.


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