WEST ORANGE, NJ — Seton Hall University (SHU) fire survivors Shawn Simmons and Alvaro Llanos recenty visited West Orange High School to share their emotional story with the senior class.
On Jan. 19, 2000, after a SHU basketball victory against rival St. John’s, the third floor of the Boland Hall dorm was engulfed with smoke and flames. The fire was set by fellow students who originally denied culpability and eventually pleaded guilty to third-degree arson.
Three students, Aaron Karol, Frank Caltabilota and John Giunta, died that day, and 56 students and firefighters were injured. Four were injured 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.
Eighteen years later, Simmons and Llanos travel the country sharing their story, providing fire safety tips and preaching the importance of making right decisions.
Their story inspired the West Orange students, who were engaged and attentive as they watched the movie "After the Fire" and interacted with these two survivors. There were plenty of tears, a few laughs and at the end of the presentation, "plenty of hugs" to go around.
The assembly was made possible through a significant donation from the Orange/West Orange Unico Chapter and was organized by Student Assistance Counselor Keshia Cooper in conjunction with West Orange Fire Chief and member Anthony Vecchio.
Also in attendance were many many members of the West Orange Fire Department and O/WO UNICO Scholarship Chairman Frank Gonnella and board member Frank Paolercio.