Caldwell, N.J., February 12, 2015 – Several hundred people gathered on Caldwell University’s campus for two presentations by Seton Hall University fire survivors Alvaro llanos and Shawn Simons. The young men presented their messages of fire safety, hope, perseverance, friendship and overcoming adversity to Caldwell University students, staff and faculty, and high school students from West Essex, James Caldwell and Mount Saint Dominic Academy. Also attending were fire officials from a number of New Jersey towns including Caldwell, West Caldwell, Verona, Nutley, New Brunswick, Fair Lawn, Franklin Lakes and Cherry Hill. Resident students at Caldwell University were required to attend one of the presentations.
Llanos and Simons, who were severely burned in the fire, spoke and showed the documentary “After the Fire: A True Story of Heroes & Cowards,” which tells of their fight for survival, their recovery after the arson blaze that killed three students and injured 58 on January 19, 2000, and the investigation and trial. The two men talked about the importance of fire alarms, planning for an escape, and the detriments of pranks. They travel around the country speaking to college students about fire safety. They also speak at fire safety conferences and reach out to burn victims, especially the young, to help them through the emotional impact.
Kathleen Mele, a senior, said the presentation was inspiring and eye-opening, adding, “If I am ever going through something hard, I’m going to think of their story.”
Dayana ZeBallos, a resident life assistant, said the forum was a great way to get resident students out to learn more about fire safety.
Melissa Miele, also a senior, said, “It was real … you think it could not happen, but it could,” adding that she is always going to take every alarm seriously.
Adeyemi Adegoke and Khaleif Hinton, juniors, were struck by the bond of friendship between Llanos and Simons. That example made them cherish their own friendships even more. “We are never guaranteed another day and we need to think about what others go through,” said Adegoke. He was impacted by their strength of character and how they did not show malice to the students who started the fire.
They had “faith in friendship, faith in family, faith in life,” said Hinton.
West Essex High School accounting teacher Andrea Mondadori, who advises the student council, brought a group of her students. “It is so important for seniors (to see) before going to college.”
The program was organized by the Office of Safety and Security at Caldwell University.
Glenn Gates, director of the office , said it was great to have the area fire officials in attendance at the event. “Caldwell University has an excellent working relationship with the Caldwell Fire Department. We meet regularly to discuss training, upcoming fire evacuation drills, and overall fire safety for our campus community.”