“This story is essentially about heroes and cowards”
This year, “After the Fire,” a documentary directed by filmmaker Guido Verweyen which documents the 2000 Boland Hall fire that killed three students and injured more than 50 others, will be released.
Wednesday marked 11 years since the blaze that changed Seton Hall forever.
As reported by The Setonian on Sept. 9, Verweyen was inspired to create a documentary on the subject after reading the “After the Fire,” series, an acclaimed seven-part Star-Ledger story by Robin Gaby Fisher, which documented the recovery of two of the most severely injured students, Shawn Simons and Alvaro Llanos.
“I thought that if it was ok with Shawn and Alvaro, it was a great idea because it’s such an incredible story,” Fisher said.
Both Simons and Llanos agreed, and with Fisher on board to help open doors, Verweyen began creating the documentary, which is now complete.
Verweyen said he would like to submit the film for screenings at various film festivals. Additionally, Verweyen is currently working on a website for the documentary, which will feature a trailer for the documentary as well as photos and links to the original “After the Fire” series.
While Verweyen originally focused on the two students featured in the series, Simons and Llanos, he said he was surprised at how the story expanded.
“The thing that stood out to me after completing the film, which wasn’t very clear to me during filming, is that this story is essentially about heroes and cowards,” Verweyen said. “It’s a bizarre thing in times like these, in a tragedy…in the blink of an eye, you either become a hero or a coward.”
Verweyen said the split-second decisions which changed all of those students’ lives were what interested him the most.
“A lot of kids didn’t know they’d go to bed that night and wake up to become either heroes or cowards, and the importance of the story is how we as an audience stand to this,” Verweyen said.
Director of Housing and Residence Life, Tara Hart, was at Seton Hall when the fire occurred. Hart hopes the documentary, “will help to rekindle in students an awareness of the fragility of life, the importance of community and looking out for one another.”
According to Hart, the University was in compliance with the N.J. fire code at the time of the fire. However, many problems the fire revealed have since been fixed.
According to Hart, all of the dorms at Seton Hall are now equipped with sprinklers, which greatly reduces the heat and power of a fire, as well as fire suppression systems, such as the alarms, which are hardwired to notify Public Safety and Security and the South Orange Fire Department when triggered. There also has been a substantial decline in the number of prank alarms due to awareness efforts.
According to Hart, current freshmen Lawrence Garafola and Kerri Ahern, who both live in Boland, expressed concern about the number of times the fire alarm has gone off in Boland.
“When the alarm goes off I leave, but if it’s three or four in the morning I’m not really in a rush,” Ahern said. “I don’t go slowly, but I don’t run out either.”
Despite the frequent fire alarms, Garafola feels it’s for the best.
“I feel that the level of fire safety right now is extremely high. So far, we have had only one fire drill yet multiple times the alarm has sounded simply because some student burnt items of food,” Garafola said. “Of course I’d rather be safe than sorry knowing the worst can happen.”
Caitlin Carroll can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.