In the early morning hours of Jan. 19, 2000, college roommates Shawn Simons and Alvaro Llanos were asleep on the third floor of their six-story freshman residence at Seton Hall University when arsonists started a fire in the lounge on the same floor. Three students died and 56 were injured. Simons and Llanos, two of the most critically burned, ended up in comas at Saint Barnabas’s Medical Center Burn Unit.
Simons, whose hands were left scarred by the flames and Llanos, who suffered third-degree burns to approximately 60 percent of his body, will speak on “After the Fire” on Wednesday, Sept. 10, at 7:30 p.m. in Cole Hall at Bridgewater College. The program is free and open to the public.
While in the hospital, Simons and Llanos made a pact to not only help each other live the best lives they could, but also forgive their wrongdoers and help each other along the road to recovery.
Both completed their degrees at Seton Hall and now help other burn survivors overcome their injuries through a support group at Saint Barnabas’s.
Simons and Llanos share their story as advocates for fire safety and prevention so that others will not have to endure the pain that they have suffered. Their story is one of survival, perseverance, inspiration, hope, courage and friendship.
Their story, After the Fire: A True Story of Friendship and Survival, was written by journalist Robin Gaby Fisher. A documentary, After the Fire: A True Story of Heroes & Cowards, was directed by Guido Verweyen.