In January of 2000, Alvaro Llanos and Shawn Simons were college freshmen at Seton Hall University in South Orange, NJ. They were roommates on the 3rd floor of Bolan Hall and determined to get the most from the college experience.
In the early morning hours of January 19, 2000, their lives, and the lives of many others, changed when an intentionally set fire turned their dorm into an inferno.
Mr. Llanos and Mr. Simons visited Howell High School on October 19th to speak about their experience, their determination, and perseverance to overcome their life-altering injuries. Theirs is a story of survival.
The two friends travel the country speaking to college and high school students about fire safety. They are making a huge impact as advocates, so other students do not have to suffer their same fate. They offer inspiration to face life’s challenges and obstacles.
The Howell Fire Bureau aligned with the Municipal Alliance to fund the program and bring Mr. Llanos and Mr. Simons to the high school. Howell firefighters from the Squankum and Southard Fire Departments were in attendance along with representatives of the Howell Fire Bureau.
The presentation began with a brief introduction by Mr. Simons setting the stage for a viewing of the documentary film, After the Fire. The movie addressed each aspect of the fire and its aftermath, including the night of, the recovery of the victims, the interaction of medical providers and the survivor's families, along with the investigation and subsequent prosecution of the two students responsible for setting the fire.
Following the film Mr. Llanos and Mr. Simons spoke of their personal experiences the night of the fire and recounted their efforts to escape, their recollections of awakening from their comas and enduring the medical procedures necessary to save their lives. Fire safety information was delivered to an attentive audience by two who lived the experience. They urged members of the senior class to never ignore a fire drill and to have a safety plan in place.
Following the presentation Jeremy Braverman, Principal of Howell High School addressed the students. “Today's activities for the senior class were a departure from your normal routine,” he said, adding “we hope you take this information with you as young adults and remember it when making decisions; make good decisions.”
“Today was an excellent use of time, effort and resources,” said Howell Fire Bureau Chief Robert Lewis. “We are grateful to the Howell Alliance for providing the necessary funding to bring Shawn and Alvaro to the high school and deliver this valuable information.”
School age children stop hearing the fire safety and fire prevention message in school by Grade 4. After the Fire fills an information gap to reach students as they become young adults. Plans are already taking shape to have Mr. Llanos and Mr. Simons back next year.