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The Adverse Effect

Sep 24, 2019

Being a burn survivor has many challenges: many people see the physical scars, however, there are also mental and emotional scars, which can be even more difficult to accept. Shawn Simmons was an inner-city youth from Newark, New Jersey who, despite violence, drugs and bad influences in his neighborhood, used education as a tool to get out of those conditions.  


As a first-generation college student, Shawn attended Seton Hall University in South Orange, NJ in the fall of 1999 on a full-ride scholarship. 


It would be the morning of January 19, 2000 whilst Shawn and roommate Alvaro Llanos slept, that a drunken fraternity prank gone wrong would change their lives and futures forever.  


When two fraternity college students set fire to a banner on a bulletin board and slipped away without pulling any alarms or alerting residents, no one could have foreseen the devastation this one act would result in. Three students perished and 58 others were injured due to their actions; Shawn and Alvaro were amongst the most severely burned and injured, almost losing their lives. 

Today, Shawn and Alvaro travel the country speaking to college and high school students about the most difficult time of their lives and the importance of fire safety and prevention, both, on and off campus. Their story is one of overcoming adversity — becoming comfortable in their burned skin — and how their bond with each other helped them get their lives back. It's also a journey of forgiveness towards the individuals convicted of starting the fire.  


“I always tell people that...a burn survivor or any survivor of any type of accident or any type of illness is still a human being.” — Shawn Simmons 

“I always tell people, if you see a burn survivor — if you're curious to know what happened to that person — ask them their story, they’ll most likely open up.” - Shawn Simmons 

“Our scars are our story, so if you want to know my story and you see my scars, just ask me.” - Shawn Simmons 

“... the question comes — if you could have changed the direction in which you went to avoid the fire would you have done it and I always answer...absolutely not. I always feel if we didn’t go that way, if we would have made the left instead of made the right, I wouldn’t be here to share this journey right now and I survived for a reason.” - Shawn Simmons 

“You can never know what your adversity is going to be, but it's how you persevere through your adversity.” - Shawn Simmons 

“I survived because the fire inside me burned brighter than the fire around me.” - Shawn Simmons 

Today on The Adverse Effect: 

  • Shawn talks about his journey out of the inner city and adjusting to the diversity of college campus life.  


  • Listen as Shawn retells the harrowing events on the night of the fire.  
  • Hear about some of the difficulties people encounter in supporting a burn survivor. 
  • Discover some of the positives that resulted from Shawn’s tragedy. 
  • Shawn shares his unexpected journey into becoming an inspiring national speaker and advocate for fire safety. 
  • We leave with a surprise guest.  


The Homework: Take less than 30 minutes today to change your perspective: 

  1. 5 minutes: Watch a clip from the movie “After the Fire”, which covered the incident. (Caution: Some scenes might be too realistic for younger children 
  1. 5 more minutes: Review the Healthy Children website on burn safety. Make one change to make your home a safer place.  
  1. 5 more minutes: Take a quiz on burn safety and treatment. For any questions that you got wrong or were unsure about, find a website to get more information.  
  1. 11 minutes: Watch an interview with Shawn Simons and Alvaro Llanos 
  1. 2 minutes: See what the sprinkler laws are in your state.  



 Resources Mentioned: 

Connect with Shawn Simmons: 


Thanks for tuning in!  

Thank you for joining us on today’s episode of The Adverse Effect! If you like what you hear, remember to rate us highly on Apple Podcasts or wherever you get your podcasts. 

Don’t forget to check out our website, or hang out with us on Twitter to stay up-to-date on what’s in store for you! 

The Adverse Effect podcast with Ken Cheadle is proudly produced by Podcast Wagon.