After the fire: Community leaders help educate seniors by hosting guest speakers

Danica Mendes

“Do we really have to go outside? Can’t we just close the door and wait in the classroom?” students ask teachers as the alarm sounds signaling a fire drill. The lack of concern and idea that nothing bad could happen to them was the mentality Shawn Simons and Alvaro Llanos aimed to change by sharing their story.

The Bryan and College Station fire departments worked with the Environmental Health and Safety Department at Texas A&M, and received funding from Siemens Industry and Standard Automatic Fire Enterprises to bring Shawn and Alvaro to the local ISDs.

Shawn and Alvaro attended Seton Hall University in New Jersey in January 2000. As they slept, an arson fire was set on the third story of their dorm. Thinking it was a false alarm like the 30 plus drills which occurred the previous semester, many students in the dorm did not move quickly to leave the building. As a result, 56 students were injured and 3 died while both Shawn and Alvaro received 3rd degree burns over 16% and 56% of their bodies respectively.

“Shawn and Al went through a serious life experience when they were freshman at college,” Bryan Fire Chief Randy McGregor said. “Many of our high school seniors will be in college soon. The importance of an individual’s situational awareness in any event is important, but especially when dealing with a deadly threat such as fire.”

Shawn and Al’s story is raising awareness of fire safety touches the hearts of many students throughout the United States as they travel telling their story.

“Shawn and Al’s fire safety message matches the message that we relay,” McGregor said. “Their passion and experience touched us all and their heartfelt concern for people also affected audiences in a positive way.”

Shawn and Al’s story impacts students positively and captures the attention of many students that least expect it.

“The presentation was really interesting,” senior Isaac Womack said. “I went into the presentation not really thinking that it was going to be anything at all. I was ready to do homework while it was going on, but as soon as I heard their story it touched my heart.”

Students were engaged throughout the presentation as they were reminded that they are not invincible, and that bad things can happen. They have the potential to minimize the effects if they are well-prepared.

“The presentation has impacted me by causing me to be more aware of exits in a building and where I am in relation to the exits,” senior Elizabeth Dodge said. “It makes me want to take all fire drills seriously and not stay inside the building while fire drills are happening.”

Learning basic fire procedures, such as fire drills, raising awareness, and limits the number of future burn victims.

“From the message of Al and Shawn, I hope that our young adults learn to follow basic fire safety principles such as responding to fire alarms and having a plan to escape in an emergency,” McGregor said. “I also want them to gain an understanding of the threats that are around them and their responsibility to themselves and others so they are ready to act.”

Shawn and Al taught basic safety procedures such as staying aware of surroundings and always responding to fire drills. Organizers thought students connected to the presentation and hope they will carry a piece of it with them as they move on to college next year.

“Shawn and Al are very special people and it makes me smile when I think about how the seniors of our cities received them,” McGregor said. “The seniors as a whole showed them great respect and kindness while they were here.”

The presentation ended with a positive outcome and a hope to bring Shawn and Al back again, so that BISD seniors continue to learn about fire safety and Shawn and Al’s story.

“We are hoping that we can bring Shawn and Al back year-after-year to talk with our seniors,” McGregor said. “We’ll be meeting again soon to set this up and address our biggest need a continued funding source.”