Burned survivors of Seton Hall University fire in 2000 to speak on fateful night, aftermath

January 22, 2015  

Seton Hall fire

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WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. – Two students who suffered severe burns in a Jan. 19, 2000, fire at a Seton Hall University residence hall will visit Purdue University on Wednesday (Jan. 28) to share their inspirational story and deliver a message that all college students should hear.

Shawn Simons and Alvaro Llanos  will present "After the Fire: A True Story of Heroes and Cowards" at 7 p.m. in Loeb Playhouse. The film shares their experiences from the night of the fire and through the long emotional, spiritual and physical recovery. The two will follow the 50-minute film with a question-and-answer session with the audience. The event is free and open to the public.

Fifteen years ago this month, Seton Hall freshmen and roommates Simons and Llanos were awakened around 4:30 a.m. to the sounds of fire alarms in Boland Residence Hall. Thinking the alarms would turn out to be nothing, just as others had before, they took their time getting their clothes and jackets on to go out into the cold. They realized upon opening their door that this was no false alarm as thick, black smoke hit them immediately. They properly got low and crawled to a nearby exit, but not before Simons suffered third-degree burns to his hands as his palms stuck to the intensely hot floor, and first- and second-degree burns to his head and face. Llanos was critically burned over 56 percent of his body when his jacket caught fire from a falling ceiling tile, and he spent three months in a coma.

The blaze, which was started by a pair of students who set a bulletin board banner on fire as a drunken prank, left 58 people injured and three dead. The fire is said to have climbed to 1,500 degrees Fahrenheit in less than five minutes. The fire drew national media coverage and led to a Pulitzer Prize for a Newark (New Jersey) Star-Ledger photographer and a New York Times bestselling book.

According to Campus Firewatch, there have been 169 fire fatalities in campus communities since January 2000. Disturbingly, Indiana has the nation's third most during that time with 13. Alcohol is a contributing factor in more than half of the college fire fatalities.

"Many people – especially young people who think it will not happen to them – don't give fire safety a lot of thought. But it is so important to be aware of potential hazards, have a plan in place and treat every alarm as if it's the real thing, no matter how annoying it might seem," said Kevin Ply, Purdue fire chief and president of the Indiana Fire Chiefs Association, who is helping bring the event to Purdue. "This program will pull at the heartstrings through what the people at Seton Hall went through, but it should also inspire those in attendance to think a little more about fire safety. We think it's important for as many people to see it as possible."

Simons and Llanos, who have traveled the country sharing their story, will also take their program this month to Duquesne University in Pittsburgh, Rice University in Houston and Ball State University.

In addition to the Purdue Fire Department, Purdue Fraternity, Sorority and Cooperative Life; University Residence; and Purdue Student Government, are sponsoring the event. 

Writer: Jim Bush, 765-494-2077, jsbush@purdue.edu 

Source: Kevin Ply, 765-494-6919, kmply@purdue.edu 

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