Education

West Orange High School Seniors Learn About Dorm Fire Safety from SHU Survivors

Chief Smeraldo and firefighters with Keshia Golding-Cooper, Simmons, Hayden Moore, Llanos and teacher Armando Chirichiello Credits: Cynthia Cumming
Simmons and Llanos with students. Credits: Cynthia Cumming
RMS ELA teacher Kimberly Nunes Credits: Cynthia Cumming
WOFD Fire Chief Pete Smeraldo. Credits: Cynthia Cumming

WEST ORANGE, NJ – West Orange High School seniors were captivated by a recent visit from Shawn Simmons and Alvaro Llanos, two well-known survivors of the infamous Seton Hall University dorm fire on Jan. 19, 2000.

The fire began on the third floor of the Boland Hall freshmen dorm at approximately 4:30 a.m. following a SHU basketball victory. It was bitterly cold and a series of false fire alarms had been going off on a regular basis.

Roommates Simmons and Llanos heard the fire alarm and took their time getting out. When they attempted to leave their dorm room they realized the awful truth—this was no false alarm.

Sign Up for E-News

Three students died: Aaron Karol and Frank Caltabilota died of thermal injuries, and John Giunta died due to smoke inhalation. Fifty-six students and firefighters were injured, four seriously enough to require lengthy hospital stays and rehabilitation.

Simmons and Llanos were two of the most critically injured students, spending months in rehabilitation in the Saint Barnabas Burn Unit.

Roosevelt Middle School English teacher Kimberly Nunes was a student at SHU at the time and recalled the fire.

“I knew all three boys and I had a class with John Guinta,” said Nunes. “I knew Aaron's face from classes and around campus and Frank's from the training room. I am brought back to every service and every feeling…the years upon years have not made anything about the day different. I can say the experience itself was overwhelming for all of us involved.”

In comas, the boys’ journey was documented by a journalist and photographer for the New Jersey Star Ledger. Photographer Matt Rainey went on to win a Pulitzer Prize for Feature Photography and “After the Fire: A True Story of Friendship” by Robin Gaby Fisher became a New York Times bestseller. 

Simmons and Llanos showed the students the 2011 documentary “After the Fire: A True Story of Heroes and Cowards,” telling their story. As a result of the investigation, New Jersey became the first state in the country to require mandatory sprinkler systems in all college dormitories.

The arsonists were fellow students and drunk fraternity boys Sean Ryan and Joseph LePore, who originally denied culpability and eventually pleaded guilty to third-degree arson.

Although the facts of the fire were covered by Simmons, Llanos and the documentary, it was the character of the men that they had become that captured the students’ attention. They now travel to schools nationally to encourage students and provide invaluable advice, like knowing all the exits and escape routes and how to reach them no matter where you are.

The assembly was organized by PE Supervisor Kevin Alvine and Student Assistance Counselor Keshia Golding-Cooper. West Orange Fire Chief Pete Smeraldo was also on hand to speak to students, noting that on-campus fires were commonplace and dangerous.

“We wanted to provide you with something you can take with you as you go off to college,” said Principal Hayden Moore. “You’ll be on your own soon and making your own decisions, we want your safety and the safety of others to be one of them.”

Find about more about Shawn and Alvaro here.

To see the documentary “After the Fire,” click here.

See all the photos from the assembly here.

TAP Into Another Town's News:

You May Also Like

Sign Up for E-News

West Orange

Revelations and Reunions Cause Ripples on Game of Thrones

In comparison to last Sunday’s mid-season episode, this week’s “Game of Thrones” was somewhat anticlimactic—but even still, there was never a dull moment.

Jon is the rightful heir to the Iron Throne. Although Sam ignored Gilly’s ramblings, she discovered a crucial fact among his growing pile of books: High Septon Maynard, under the Mad King’s reign, ...

Upcoming Events

Tue, August 22, 7:30 PM

Oskar Schindler Performing Arts Center, West Orange

Free Movie Night: Zootopia

Arts & Entertainment

Thu, August 24, 8:00 PM

Oskar Schindler Performing Arts Center, West Orange

Freespace Dance

Arts & Entertainment

Wed, September 6, 7:30 PM

Temple B'nai Abraham, Livingston

All Jewish History in One Hour…Really Professor ...

Education Religions And Spirituality

"All Jewish History in One Hour…Really!" at Livingston's Temple B'nai Abraham

August 15, 2017

LIVINGSTON, NJ — On Wednesday, Sept. 6, at 7:30 p.m. at Temple B'nai Abraham Congregational Learning presents "All Jewish History in One Hour…Really!" with Professor David N. Myers, President, Center for Jewish History, Sadie and Ludwig Kahn Chair in Jewish History, UCLA.

Myers returns this fall to discuss his just-published Jewish History, part of the ...

10U Little League Troopers From Elizabeth Become Mid-Atlantic Baseball Champs

August 14, 2017

ELIZABETH, NJ - The Elmora Youth Little League Troopers made team history Friday when they became Mid-Atlantic Regional champions, but fell short in gaining the top tournament title.

MORE: State Little League Champs in Elizabeth Need Help Getting to Regionals

The team’s wins come after an outpouring of financial and moral support which helped get them to the 9-10 Little League ...

Staring at the Sun

Sometime during the morning of August 21st, millions of Americans will crowd toe to toe on a narrow ribbon of land stretching across the continental United States for the opportunity to stand in the moon’s full shadow for two minutes.

 

I am not sure, but I think this is the celestial equivalent of traveling to Disneyland and waiting in line 90 minutes for a 30 second thrill ride ...