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Survivors speak on campus fire safety and prevention



Two survivors of a residence hall fire spoke Wednesday night in Alumni Hall about campus fire safety and prevention.

Alvaro Llanos and Shawn Simons were roommates in 2000 at Seton Hall University in South Orange, New Jersey. On January 19, 2000, drunken fraternity brothers lit a bulletin board on fire in the third floor lounge. The fire spread to three couches and eventually caught the building on fire, killing three and injuring 56 more.

Llanos and Simons both suffered from burns all over their bodies.

Several years later, the two began developing a fire safety program for college campuses. For the past seven years, they have been traveling the country full time educating college students with their program, After the Fire.

“We want to create awareness, because coming into college, we didn’t have that information,” Llanos said. “We want to pay it forward so that others don’t have to go through what we have.”

During a film presentation and question-and-answer session, the two speakers taught the audience of about 200 about the dangers of fire.

“Fire has no prejudice, it will hurt anyone at any time,” Simons said.

The presentation also provided handouts with checklists on fire safety and what to do in case a fire starts. Tips for prevention include using flameless candles, cleaning the dryer lint trap and not cooking when tired or distracted. 

Not tampering with smoke detectors is important to preventing fires, Simons said. According to the handout on fire safety, in 58 percent of fatal campus fires from 2000 to 2015, smoke alarms had been missing or turned off.

Fourth year graduate student Matt Walker went through a situation similar to Simons and Llanos. While attending Jackson State University in Jackson, Mississippi for his undergraduate degree, a student lit two garbage cans on fire in his residence hall as part of a prank. The building caught on fire and Walker was unable to get any of his belongings before they burned.

Walker, a graduate supervisor of resident assistance, said fire safety is not only an important issue to him, but should be for others.

“This hits really close to home for me,” Walker said. “I have been encouraging other RA’s to come to the talk as well.”

Simons and Llanos were invited to speak by IU Public Safety and Institutional Assurance, Residential Programs and Services, and the Office of Insurance Lost Control and Claims to try and prevent such a tragedy from happening on campus. 

“Our goal now is to turn a tragedy into something positive,” Simons said. “We want to show people how to avoid the negative.”

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