Auburn University acknowledges the month of September as Fire Safety Month, following the Seton Hall Dormitory fires that happened on Jan. 19, 2000. The Campus Fire Safety Right-To-Know Act was introduced after this fire and became a part of the law in 2008.
The morning of Jan. 19, 2000, was the day that a fatal fire occurred in a dormitory of Seton Hall University. The fire killed three and injured 58 students, which acted as a wake-up call nationally, and ultimately ended up with The Campus Fire Safety Right-To-Know Act.
Through the month of September, the Auburn University Office of Risk Management will be hosting tips as well as reminders of how to be safe during the occurrence of a fire. They held a fire festival on Sept. 12 along the Haley Concourse and had activities in the Melton Student Center. They also had two survivors from the Seton Hall fire give a presentation in the ACLC building.
The university brought in fire survivors Alvaro Llanos and Shawn Simons to speak about their experience during the fire, and how it affected them after the fire as well as to raise awareness on fires and speak on fire safety.
“First time away from home, first taste of independence, we never thought we’d be fighting for our lives this night. Fire safety—safety in general wasn’t a part of our list. We were worried about the next party and going to class,” Llanos said.
Llanos and his roommate Simons were both freshmen when this fire occurred, and because they both thought that the fire alarm going off was a false alarm, they took their time getting dressed and out. Since they took their time, they found themselves in a cloud of smoke, and they both ended up with burns on their body.
While Shawn only suffered from 16% of his body being severely burned, Llanos had over 35% of his body burned in the fire. He was covered in third degree burns all over, and he ended up in a coma after the fire.
“At 18, you feel indestructible. I remember being burned and looking at my arm peeling and thinking ‘Ah, they’ll patch me up and I’ll be back in a week’. Then three months later, I’m waking up from a coma,” Llanos said.
Llanos and Simons came to Auburn University and shared their story. They shared their documentary After the Fire, and the story of how a prank gone wrong changed their lives and the lives of others. Their recoveries took years to finally get through.
Simons and Llanos decided that after the loss of their three classmates, they had a purpose to share their story and raise awareness around the United States at many institutions.
“Our goal is to show you all that there are sometimes... unnecessary dangers that we’re not always prepared for," Simons said.
They recalled the recovery process, stating that their families were constantly by their sides, and that through the recovery, Simons and Llanos became as close as brothers despite only knowing each other for four months. Simons was there constantly for Llanos, just as his family would be, and they’re still this close today.
When asked what safety measures are important, Simons gave many options, but he mostly emphasized two points.
“If you know how to properly use a fire extinguisher, then get to the nearest one. If you pass a fire alarm on the way, make sure you pull it. If there are other people around you, tell them to pull the fire alarm. No matter how small a fire is, you want to call the fire department," Simons said. “If it’s something bigger, we advise you all to just get out. Close the door behind you so the fire slows in the spread.”
Simons reminded students to find their safety exits in unusual places. He made sure to remind students of housing safety requirements and rules. Any open flame or any item that could catch fire easily are especially dangerous. He also reminded them that fires can happen anywhere to anyone.
“We live our lives with more caution than the average person does, because of what we’ve gone through,” Simons said. “Fire knows no prejudice; it doesn’t care who you are and it doesn’t care where you are; it can happen to anyone at any time.”
Do you like this story? The Plainsman doesn't accept money from tuition or student fees, and we don't charge a subscription fee. But you can donate to support The Plainsman.
Brychelle Brooks is a sophomore majoring in public and professional writing. She has been with The Plainsman since August 2023.