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Seton Hall: Tragedy on Campus

‘This one’s for real!’

Fire kills 3 in Seton Hall dorm prone to false alarms

By Mary Jo Patterson Star-Ledger Staff

A small but intense fire sent acrid black smoke through a freshman dormitory at Seton Hall University in South Orange before dawn yesterday, killing three students and sending hundreds of others on a flight for their lives.

Fifty-eight students were injured, four critically, by the flames and thick smoke that billowed from a third-floor lounge. The smoke blinded and choked 18- and 19-year-olds as they felt their way, or crawled, to stairwells. Others, terrorized, remained in their rooms, crying and begging for help. At least one jumped from his window before firefighters could extend rescue ladders.

Nearly a score of false alarms in recent weeks had caused many students to disregard the fire alarm at first. Then, as the smoke filled the building, they realized this was no prank. ‘‘I heard people screaming. . . . ‘This one’s for real! This one’s for real!’” said Jason Esposito, a resident of the dormitory, Boland Hall.

Alison Liptak was one of those who discounted the alert. “I just thought it was another false alarm. I just laid there, kind of ignoring it, until I heard someone running down the hall,” said Liptak, 18, of Clifton. The pajamas-clad freshman escaped from her fourth-floor room to find another horror scene outside. She looked up to see students leaning out windows, pleading for help.

As of early this morning, investigators had not pinpointed the cause of the fire, but they had ruled out careless smoking and faulty electrical wiring.

Authorities identified the three dead students as John Giunta of Vineland, Aaron Karol of Green Brook and Frank Caltabilota of West Long Branch. Two of the three were found in the lounge, burned beyond recognition, according to sources at the scene. The third, whom fellow students tried to revive, was found in a bedroom nearby.

The most seriously injured were three of 12 victims admitted to the burn unit of Saint Barnabas Medical Center in Livingston, and one victim at University Hospital in Newark.

By day’s end, 45 students had been treated and released from seven area hospitals, most suffering from smoke inhalation.

The six-story Boland Hall - built in 1952 as the university’s first dormitory - is home to 600 Seton Hall freshmen.

University officials said that 18 false alarms had been registered at the 350-room structure since Sept. 1, fewer than in previous years. Still, a number of students buried their heads in their pillows at the sound of the alarm. “I didn’t think anything of it. We’ve had fire alarms going off all the time during finals week, and I figured, ‘More of the same,’” said Tom Semko of Howell.

Hellish sights and sounds confronted fleeing students.

Anthony Neis, an 18-year-old from Staten Island, passed a young man who was clad only in shorts, covered with burns, and moaning. “He must have been in such pain,” said Neis, who escaped unharmed.

Carrie Fleisher, a freshman from Hillsborough, saw a teenager on fire. “He was totally blackened. Some kids were hitting him with a jacket. He was conscious and hitting himself, too,” she said. Jumping from the ledge Outside, one teenager hung by his hands from a window sill. Another, Nicholas Donato, a 6-foot-1 freshman, walked to his window ledge and jumped, breaking an ankle and wrist.

Yatin Patel, 19, of Jersey City, trapped in his room, heaved mattresses out his window, with his roommate’s help. Paralyzed with fear, he was standing at the window, contemplating jumping, when a firefighter burst into the room. Patel wet a sock, put it over his mouth and nose and - grabbing the kneeling fireman’s left leg - began to crawl out into the corridor. His roommate held Patel’s leg in turn and crawled behind them. The trio moved slowly through the darkness, under flames licking from ceiling tiles, to a stairwell.

Down the hall, Virginia Wannamaker dialed 911 on her cell phone as she waited in fear with her roommate. The 18-year-old from Irvington heeded the advice of the fire dispatcher, stuffing a comforter under the door and sealing it tight with packing tape. They opened windows and turned on a fan.

South Orange fire sources said they were alerted to the fire at 4:28 a.m. by the college’s public safety department and had the fire under control by approximately 4:45 a.m. Officials on the scene could not pinpoint exactly when the blaze started, however. Seven other municipalities also responded to the general alarm fire.

University officials said the building’s occupants included 18 paid resident assistants, one priest and four professional staffers. In the event of a fire, resident assistants are to knock on every door, said Lisa Grider, a spokeswoman for Seton Hall. South Orange firefighters conducted an extensive primary search of the dorm, followed by two more, she added.

Still, two freshmen slept through the entire ordeal undetected and emerged unscathed hours later, at 2 p.m.

The blaze was confined to a lounge area off the elevators, open on two sides to student rooms. Students use the area - furnished with three plush velour sofas, a rug, a cork bulletin board and pay phones - to socialize and study. Sometimes they nap there, too.

University officials said smoking is allowed in dorm rooms but prohibited in the lounge. In the fire, the sofas were completely burned; the ceiling, cinder-block walls, and low-pile rug were singed. Fire officials speculated that the two dead students found in the lounge had left their rooms and became disoriented.

Boland Hall is one of six dormitories on campus and one of two without sprinklers. It is equipped with smoke detectors and 55 fire extinguishers, one of which was found, used, near the fire, university officials said.

‘‘This is a heartbreaking tragedy for Seton Hall University, for our families, for all the Seton Hall family, and for the larger family of the state,” said Msgr. Robert Sheeran, president of Seton Hall, a Catholic university founded in 1856. Some 2,200 of its 10,000 students live on campus.

Sheeran suspended all classes, activities, and events through Sunday pending further notice.

Gov. Christie Whitman, who visited the scene, called the fire a “huge tragedy.”

By all accounts, the hours immediately before the fire passed like most nights at Boland Hall - except for the lingering air of jubilation caused by Seton Hall’s unexpected win, 78-70, over basketball archrival St. John’s. The new semester, which began last Thursday, was fresh and new. Students were up late, as usual. There were parties here and there.

For example, Tiffany Hill, an 18-year-old from Maryland, had spent the night alternately studying her economics textbook and bouncing between friends across the hall and in the lounge. Around 3 a.m. she finally called it quits and retired to her room. She dozed for about an hour, when her roommate woke her, saying she needed to talk. Exhausted, Hill put her off and fell back asleep, but woke not many minutes later.

This time her friend was in her face. “Tiff, get up, get up,” she yelled. “It’s real.” Hill had not heard the alarms, but she smelled smoke as soon as she shook herself awake. Someone banged at the door.

‘‘We put on our stuff and ran,” Hill said, interviewed hours later as she walked across campus, carrying the teddy bear slippers she had put on to escape the fire.

Michael McCaffrey, a roommate of victim Aaron Karol, was still awake when the alarms sounded. He was not in his third-floor room but on the floor above, watching movies with friends.

‘‘My bed is on the other side of the lounge wall,” McCaffrey said. “If I was there, I probably wouldn’t be here right now. And when I heard the fire alarm, at first I didn’t react much. I was very nonchalant. There’s a fire alarm almost every night sometimes, it seems. It’s those idiot frat pledges who are constantly pulling the alarms.”

Rob Cardiello, who lived two doors from the lounge, was one of the few students to report actually seeing fire. He hadn’t heard the smoke alarms, having put on earplugs before going to sleep. Suddenly he awoke, wet and sweaty.

‘‘I looked to the right, to the lounge, and saw (orange) flames,” he said. As he exited the building in the opposite direction, the sharp black smoke penetrated his lungs like acid. “I could feel the whole way down the hallway: Your lungs are burning,” Cardiello said. The 18-year-old freshman from Clark was treated at Mountainside Hospital in Montclair for smoke inhalation.

As Cardiello ran toward safety, he smacked into two students who were running and screaming. He pushed one toward the right direction, grabbed the other, and charged down the hallway. The smoke was so thick, he said, that they ran past the exit, into a wall.

Once outside, Cardiello ran around campus, looking for a missing friend. “I didn’t really realize how I was feeling until I stopped,” he said hours later. Second-degree burns All four of the students listed as “very critical” were on respirators last night. The three at Saint Barnabas, all males, had second-degree burns covering from 15 to 56 per cent of their bodies. Only one, Alvaro Ilanos, was identified.

At University Hospital, the patient was Dana Christmas, a resident adviser who suffered severe burns and respiratory distress. Christmas, 21, of Paterson was unconscious and attached to a ventilator to ease pressure on her smoke-damaged lungs. Doctors said she had burns over 60 percent of her body, including her face, back and extremities.

‘‘She has fairly extensive injuries. Her condition is being monitored on a minute-to-minute basis,” said Sanjeev Kaul, the trauma physician attending to her.

News of the fire hit the airwaves early, frightening parents.

In Teaneck, Roderico Sumilang and his wife, whose alarm radio had been set to an all-news station, heard about the fire the second they woke up. Sumilang turned on the TV. He dialed the number of the cell phone he had just given his son, Romil. The son’s roommate answered.

‘‘He said, ‘I can’t talk, the firemen are trying to get us out,’” the father recalled. “I said, ‘Where’s my son?’ He said, ‘He might have gotten out the back.’”

Sumilang called the college but got a recording. Again, he dialed his son’s cell phone. This time, a different voice delivered the news: Romil had been taken away in an ambulance.

The couple learned that some students had been taken to Saint Barnabas, and they left for the hospital. They found their son in the intensive care unit. “I’m okay,” Romil told them, then asked about his friends.

Many parents endured hours of agonizing uncertainty.

Others counted their blessings to find children alive. So did their kids.

‘‘I think God had his arms around me this morning,” said Nicole McFarlane, 19, a freshman from Summit who lived on Boland Hall’s fifth floor. “That’s why I got out. I had God’s arms around me.”

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For many students, deadly fire was their first brush with tragedy

S. Orange campus takes on appearance of a television show

By Rebecca Goldsmith Star-Ledger Staff

Dazed and numb, they spoke to one another through tears, searching for solace in the embraces of parents and friends.

Behind yellow police tape, their dormitory, Boland Hall, sat empty but for investigators seeking the cause of the blaze that killed three students and injured dozens more.

Death had come to Seton Hall University, and for many of the young adults who escaped and watched the quick, intense inferno, it was their first brush with tragedy, an unbidden descent into terror and grief in the darkest hours of a brutally cold night.

Throughout the day, they watched as their South Orange campus was transformed into something they usually saw only on television. The circle of grass at the center of campus, normally off-limits to cars, became a parking lot for emergency vehicles. Dozens of news trucks lined other campus drives. ‘‘You hear these things happen in old downtown buildings, but on a college campus, you would think they’re safe,” said Evangeline Williams, a sophomore from Delaware. Williams said she always felt her school was immune from such destruction.

The student center’s auditorium, home to perfunctory activities such as registration, drew hundreds of students and parents every few hours for official responses to their questions: Who died? Who was injured? How seriously? Where were they taken? Where is my kid

?Don Ballard was among them. After hearing about the fire on the morning news, he raced to Seton Hall from his central New Jersey home, panic creeping up his back as he worried about his daughter, whom he was unable to reach on the phone.

Ballard was one of the lucky ones. He found his daughter safe. But he watched as one man struggled for control while he waited for word of his son.

‘‘No one knew where his son was,” Ballard said. “He was beside himself. He was broken up.”

With the university closed for the day and classes called off until Monday, students had little else to do than gather with friends in clusters, sharing grief and information.

‘‘Everyone’s kind of shocked. It’s just too close to home,” said Shawn Utsey, a psychology professor from South Orange who came to the campus offering his counseling services.

The student center became a reunion place for people such as freshman Theresa Wilk and her mother, Frances, of Neshanic, who arrived to bring her daughter home for a few days. By early afternoon, Theresa still clutched the white teddy bear she had held to her mouth as she crawled from her dorm room through smoky hallways to safety.

Elsewhere on campus, students simply milled about, unsure of where to go and what to do.

Mental health professionals tried to help those hardest hit.

One of the counselors approached a group of students watching an early afternoon news report.

‘‘By nature you’re doing what you need to do, which is to talk to each other. One of the most important things you can do right now is just to talk to each other,” she said.

Theresa Berkey and Megan Koenig, freshmen from Chicago, said they appreciated the advice but had had enough talking by late afternoon. They were still lounging in the clothes they were wearing at 4:30 a.m. while waiting to find out when they could return to their dorm rooms.

Despite the official updates, many students did not know the fate of their friends for much of the day.

‘‘You just ask around,” said Lovereen Lehga, a freshman from Plainsboro. “You get little bits of information.”

Deborah Gilwood, a music professor, walked around the student center with a list of names of students in her program. She had confirmed the location of all but one by early afternoon.

‘‘It’s a supportive atmosphere. Everyone’s talking to one another. We’re all very distressed,” she said. The fast-food court, usually a lively gathering place with blaring TVs, was somber and quiet, with groups of students mingling with parents, faculty and clergy.

The housing office took up the job of finding beds for displaced students last night, fielding offers from community members to put up students in their homes in South Orange, Maplewood and Millburn.

President’s Hall, where administrators work, became the command center for information to be released to the public.

Throughout the day, members of the campus community turned to God for reassurance.

A circle of worshippers in the student center gradually swelled as the day wore on, with more and more people pausing to offer prayers.

‘‘We’re just hoping that God will heal the bodies of people that are injured,” said April Richardson of Newark, a student who thanked God for sparing her younger brother, a Boland Hall resident.

Later, more than 200 people crowded into Immaculate Conception Chapel, praying for those injured and killed. About 150 others waited outside in the cold, saying the Rosary.

Newark Archbishop Theodore McCarrick offered a benediction and words of support over the faint chopping of a news helicopter overhead.

‘‘We’re all trying to be here for each other,” said Amy Reina of Matawan, a student member of the Alpha Phi Omega service fraternity, which was passing out towels, toothpaste, soap and other goods to students in need. “It’s just good to see that the community came together.”

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On the other end of phones, tears, terror and understatement/h1>

By Bob Braun


The phone rang, and she screamed.

Daisy Llanos screamed and the sound sliced through the silent, predawn darkness in a way that could have meant only one thing: Something horrible had happened to Alvaro.

‘‘Alvaro! Alvaro!” The woman’s two other children, Shirley, 25, and Shany, 16, awakened instantly and rushed from their beds in the small Paterson apartment on East 18th Street and tried to find out what happened.

Their mother could barely speak, says Shirley. It must have been something she heard on the telephone. Shirley thought she heard it ring but paid no attention. ‘‘She finally cried out Alvaro was in the hospital. He had been burned. We had to go immediately.”

Hours later, Daisy, her face streaked with tears, still shook her head in disbelief. “How could this be?” she recalls asking the anonymous voice on the telephone, a voice that said something about Saint Barnabas Medical Center. “Alvaro cannot be in the hospital. He is safe in school. I just saw him two days ago.”

The calls were not all as bad as the one Daisy Llanos received, but phones rang unexpectedly in hundreds of homes throughout the Northeast before dawn yesterday. Calls like the one received by Joyce Smith of Linden:

‘‘Mom, mom, listen don’t be frightened, but I’m calling you from an ambulance. Everything’s okay. I’m all right.”

That’s how she learned her son, Gabriel, was one of 54 injured in yesterday’s fatal fire at Seton Hall University’s freshman dorm, Boland Hall.

‘‘Ambulance? What’re you talking about?”

‘‘Can’t talk now. Going to Orange Medical Center.”

Joyce found her son later at the hospital, covered in soot. She didn’t recognize him, wouldn’t answer the boy in the emergency room who kept calling her, “Mom!” Finally, he yelled, “Hey, Joyce Smith. It’s me. Your son.”

It happened that way, again and again. The phone rang when it shouldn’t, the worst sound for a parent whose kids are away. It reminded them that bad things happen.

Mostly, the kids themselves called. They knew their parents would wake to the news of the fire and the deaths. They knew it and they wanted their parents not to worry.

‘‘She said something like ‘there was a little problem in my dorm,’” says Joe Liptak from Clifton about the call from Allison, his daughter, his only child. “She said not to worry. Everything would be all right.”

So Joe and Angela, his wife, snapped on the television, only to see images of a burning dorm with a grave voice-over saying three students had been killed and many more injured.

‘‘Little problem?” Joe said aloud.

Sometimes, the calls were so strange.

‘‘Mom, I love you.” Linda Melanaphy knew the voice, but it was oddly small and tight. A frightened little boy’s voice. Her son Brian’s voice. He just didn’t call in the middle of the night to say he loved his mother.

‘‘Brian, what’s wrong? What happened?” What a mother would say without thinking when a telephone rings when it’s morning and still dark.

The voice of her 18-year-old son, a big kid, a self-assured kid, cracked into tears and he began to cry. “There’s been a fire. Kids are dead. Mom, please come get me.”

So Linda and her husband Dave raced out into the cold of the Rhode Island morning, Dave’s foot so heavy on the pedal Linda swears they hit 100 miles per hour.

‘‘We made it in three hours. We didn’t think of speed limits.”

Often, it was a neighbor or a friend who called, unaware they brought frightening news.

‘‘Is Andy okay? What do you mean, ‘Is Andy okay?’ Why shouldn’t he be ?” This is what Tom Landers asked a friend who called. His wife, Laurie, woke up beside him, and she also wanted to know - demanded to know - why someone was calling about Andy at this time of day.

The friend heard it on the radio and called the Morristown family. Tom and Laurie started making calls. The school. The fire department. Anybody who could tell them. Nothing. No news. As if the telephone refused to work the other way, to bring good news, calming news.

So Tom called his office, said he would be late, maybe not in at all.

That’s when he heard Andy really was okay.

‘‘Hey, I heard your kid on the radio,” a co-worker told Tom. “Sounded great.” Andy Landers, aspiring journalist, went to the offices of WSOU, the campus radio station, to cover the story. He answered calls from other stations. His voice was heard throughout the area.

Parents got the calls, and they came. With warm clothes because they saw television pictures of students in their pajamas, shivering against the cold and the shock. Although most knew their kids were all right, some couldn’t stop shaking, thinking of what might have happened. Thinking of the telephone.

‘‘I knew she was all right. She told me 100 times. But I had to see her. I wasn’t going to believe it otherwise.”

Parents came to the Dougherty Student Center to learn more, to find their kids. Faculty and staff tried to be kind, comforting. It didn’t always work.

‘‘Where’s Shantay?” Doris Wyches, 72, of Hackensack asked every face she saw. She stopped students. Priests. Cops. Asking for her granddaughter. “Where’s Shantay Callis?”

‘‘She’s in the hospital,” answered Dinean Robinson of Vineland, a young woman dressed in a nightgown, a blanket draped over her shoulders. The tears burst from the older woman’s eyes. “No, no,” Dinean added quickly. “She’s fine. She went there to see a friend.”

Doris Wyches let the tears come anyway.

Daisy Llanos went to the student center, too, although she knew Alvaro would not be there. She and her husband and daughters had stayed hours at Saint Barnabas and the doctors said they should go and come back later. They promised to do what they could for Alvaro.

‘‘I wanted to know what happened. I wanted to know why I thought my son was asleep in his dormitory. Safe. Why someone wakes me up to tell me he is in the hospital.”

She was not satisfied. She did not know how to explain it all to her husband, also Alvaro, walking heavily on a cane because of a recent stroke, a man who does not understand English as well as she.

Daisy and her daughters talk of Alvaro. The big guy of the family. The baseball player. The basketball player. Tall, good-looking, a kid so much in love with another Seton Hall student, so happy with his new life as a freshman, living on campus.

‘‘Alvaro was so proud to be here,” says Daisy, who, like her husband, was born in Colombia. “He got a scholarship,” she says. “So smart. And a certificate from where he works.”

Then they went home, because they didn’t know what else to do. Daisy wandered the small apartment collecting photos of her son. Stopping now and then to look up at the many pictures of Jesus on the wall. Wordlessly asking Him to save Alvaro. “I am praying,” she says.

Back at the hospital, she and her husband try to talk to Alvaro. He doesn’t answer. He is hooked to machines, a tube running from the corner of his mouth, his head swathed in bandages, the skin around his eyes blackened by fire.

‘‘I cannot believe I picked up the phone and this happened,” says Daisy Llanos.

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Mourning the loss of 3 perpetual smiles

By Robin Gaby Fisher, John Mooney and David Gibson Star-Ledger Staff

John Giunta was where he liked to be best last Sunday - sitting at a dinner table with his big Italian family.

There didn’t need to be an occasion for the Giunta clan to gather, but this time there was: the golden wedding anniversary of John’s grandparents.

As always, the boy they all called “Johnny” was the life of the party that afternoon at a Chinese restaurant near the Giunta family compound in Vineland. He told hilarious stories about his college escapades, made fun of his relatives who ate sushi, and teased his 14-year-old cousin, Lou, about girls.

Yesterday, the Giuntas came together again. But this time it was to mourn. Johnny, the tall, sandy- haired freshman with the perpetual grin - the second eldest of five children - was one of the three young men who died in the Seton Hall dormitory fire on Wednesday morning. The other students, also freshmen, were Frank Caltabilota of West Long Branch and Aaron Karol of Green Brook. Their bodies were discovered in the third-floor student lounge where the fire started.

Giunta was trapped in his dorm room and died from smoke inhalation, according to his aunt, Crisilda Giunta Rucci. She said his brother, Peter, a junior at Seton Hall, was frantic to find him, but couldn’t in all the commotion.

‘‘Petey and Johnny were inseparable,” she said. “They weren’t just brothers, they were soulmates. You couldn’t get any closer - they just loved each other so much.”

Yesterday, Caltabilota’s high school football coach could only think of his former player’s broad smile - and about how the former wide receiver would always rib him in the hallway. “He would always be laughing at me. He was just a great kid,” said Mark Costantino, the eight-year head coach of the Shore Regional High School’s Blue Devils in West Long Branch.

‘‘He had a great sense of humor, a happy-go-lucky kind of guy,” said his coach. “I don’t know anybody who didn’t like him.”

Caltabilota, the second oldest of four children to parents Joanne and Frank, had been an altar boy at St. Jerome’s Roman Catholic Church. He also had a pierced ear, like a lot of teens, and something even more distinctive: a tattoo of the Chinese symbol of ascension on his left shoulder.

The family is active in the community, and Caltabilota’s father had always been a fixture at his son’s high school football games at Shore Regional High School - oftentimes working the game clock.

The team won the state championships two years ago, and the division championship last year - Caltabilota’s senior year.

But while he was a fine athlete, Caltabilota was just as revered among friends for supporting his teammates.

One of his good friends was Peter Vincelli, a halfback and fellow defensive back at Shore Regional who now attends Gettysburg College in Pennsylvania.

‘‘I have so many films of them playing together, slapping each other congratulations,” said Louis Vincelli, Peter’s father and a family friend. “He was just a real unselfish player, that’s for sure.”

The news about the fire started as rumors in the small Monmouth County community where Caltabilota grew up. First, the word was that the boy was just missing. By afternoon, though, Vincelli and others realized that the kid they knew as “Frankie” was gone.

Even his parents had to wait. They were told at noon that their son had been in the area of the fire, but were not officially notified of his death until 5 p.m. when he was identified through his dental records.

‘‘He was just a terrific kid. I can’t believe it, I can’t believe it,” said Theresa Everhardt, a second cousin who spoke outside the family’s one-level ranch house.

The Caltabilota family home sits on a quiet dead-end street. Last night the street was lined with the cars of visiting friends and relatives.

Dorothy Cross, who lived a couple of doors down, said she thought the worst when she heard Caltabilota hadn’t called in the morning when the news of the fire was on every television channel.

‘‘He wasn’t the type of the kid who would not call,” said Cross. “He wouldn’t let his parents worry.”

Caltabilota’s mother came outside but would not speak to a reporter. She wore a pin reading “Mom.”

In Somerset County last night, family members and friends of Aaron Karol tried to take solace in their memories of him.

‘‘Everyone loved him - he was a good son,” said Candy Karol, sitting with her husband, Joe, in their Green Brook home.

Candy Karol said that when the telephone didn’t ring early yesterday, she knew her son was dead. He would never have let his family endure a day of excruciating uncertainty by not calling to say he was safe.

‘‘As the day wore on, I knew he was one of the fatalities,” she said. “He would have called.”

Karol’s girlfriend of a year, Aliza Olive, a student at Watchung Hills Regional High School, rested her head on Candy Karol’s shoulder and cried.

‘‘I think they would have gotten married,” the mother said. “I feel so bad for her. I had him for 18 years - she only had him for one.”

Dan Root was Karol’s soccer coach for his last two years at Watchung Hills.

‘‘As a junior he was a quiet, shy kind of kid,” Root said. “You could see he wasn’t very sure of himself. But as a senior he came in with a confidence he didn’t have before - not only athletically, but socially.

The coach said Karol blossomed into a strong defender and was an integral part of a team that came within a hair’s breadth of winning a state championship.

While Karol could have pursued soccer at the college level, Root said the fast-maturing young man decided that academics trumped athletics. “He just decided that soccer wasn’t his top priority.”

Going to college was important - Karol was a psychology major whose dream was to become an FBI profiler - but so was remaining close enough to home to stay in touch with his parents and older sister.

‘‘Seton Hall was the perfect place for him to be,” said a distraught Joe Coletti, a Watchung Hills senior and teammate who was Karol’s friend throughout high school. “He was one in a million. It’s like losing a brother.”

Coletti had seen his friend just a couple of weeks ago. He recalled how they used to listen to Aaron’s CD collection of R&B and jazz - John Coltrane was a favorite.

At college his tastes grew even more expansive. “He had very eclectic musical tastes. He liked techno. He listened to a lot of rock. He was a great dancer and loved going to raves,” said Karol’s college roommate, Michael McCaffrey of Bergenfield. “He also wrote great poetry. His stuff was really amazing. The poems he wrote were very moving.”

McCaffrey had known Karol only since September, but at 18 that’s a long time.

‘‘He was a very cool roommate to have,” McCaffrey said Wednesday night. “He was such a nice person. He was a good friend, and a much better student than I was. He was always helping me with my studies, and because I’m kind of lazy he was always getting me going and motivating me.”

McCaffrey was on the fourth floor of the dorm watching movies and “hanging out” with friends when the fire broke out. He had last seen Karol about 8 p.m. Tuesday night as he was heading out to a party at Montclair State University. McCaffrey also saw Frank Caltabilota about that time. Caltabilota was leaving Boland Hall with his father. Eight hours later he would be dead.

As McCaffrey spoke, a friend came up and hugged him. McCaffrey broke down in tears.

‘‘All this, it just hasn’t sunk in at all,” he said. “I feel like I’m stuck in some sort of sick dream.”

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Hospitals prepared for difficult regimen

By Carol Ann Campbell and Angela Stewart Star-Ledger Staff


An otherwise routine shift was drawing to a close at the Saint Barnabas Medical Center burn unit yesterday when word filtered in about the fire at Seton Hall, one of the deadliest college dormitory fires ever.

The denizens of the night shift knew they wouldn’t be going home at their scheduled 7 a.m. The morning shift heard the news and rushed in early. The blaze left three dead and more than 60 in need of treatment at various area hospitals.

In the early morning hours, paramedics brought 12 of those students to Saint Barnabas, suffering from smoke inhalation. Three of them also had severe burns; one was burned over half of his body. Last night, they were listed in critical condition. For the doctors and nurses assigned to the Saint Barnabas unit, the effort to save severely burned fire victims can be an arduous and unpredictable one.

With victims of severe burns, the first 72 hours are most critical, doctors say. The body can lose essential fluids and go into shock when the skin is burned. The skin is the body’s only protection from infection, and charred skin and debris must be scrubbed away in a painful process to prevent infection.

And many burn victims - like those from the Seton Hall fire - also suffer from smoke inhalation. E. Hani Mansour, director of the burn unit, said medicine has come a long way in treating burn wounds, but less so for treating smoke inhalation.

Intense heat can burn the airways, and inhaled chemicals can cause damage. Patients can also die from carbon monoxide poisoning.

The three most critically injured patients from the Seton Hall fire are heavily sedated and on respirators, and though Mansour said he’s optimistic about their survival, “events could happen that might jeopardize their lives.”

The unit’s nurses and doctors are trained in the emotionally difficult and medically complex care of severe burn victims. The burn unit, certified by the state, takes the most severe burn victims and tries to keep them alive.

Then they try to help them regain movement and function of badly burned limbs and joints. Eventually, they’ll try to improve the wounds cosmetically.

Not everyone can cope with work on a burn unit. People on the unit must be able to help disfigured children, badly burned fire fighters and others with devastating injuries. Nurses must scrub burn wounds each day in a special tub.

‘‘This is the most painful part of the therapy, but it’s what helps the patients get better,” said Sari Kaplon, assistant vice president of patient care services. “Some feel the pain despite the medication.”

The staff will try anything to help a patient cope with the difficult treatment, including “new age” treatments such as music therapy, therapeutic touch, and imagining “energy fields.”

Many patients will have skin grafted from one part of the body to another. And if there is not enough skin untouched by burns a new kind of treatment can help, called cultured epithelial cells. A biopsy of the skin is removed and artificial skin is grown. The treatment is expensive but works well.

It could take 12 to 18 months for a scar to mature, and that means cosmetic surgeries can’t be done until at least a year.

‘‘What a person might look like in discharge and what they look like two years down the road is a lot different,” said Kaplon.

In the same way Saint Barnabas is a focal point in North Jersey for the treatment of severe burns, University Hospital in Newark serves as a regional trauma center. Yesterday, one of the most severely injured Seton Hall students, Dana Christmas from Paterson, was rushed there after the fire broke out. Several others were treated and released.

University Hospital is a Level I Trauma Center, equipped to handle anything from shootings with multiple casualties to fiery car crashes with multiple victims.

NOTES: Karen Auerbach contributed to this report.

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Scary formula: Old buildings, timeworn prank

Colleges adding sprinklers and boosting punishment for false alarms

By Matthew Reilly Star-Ledger Staff


Hoping to avoid the nightmarish loss of students to fire, college administrators across New Jersey say they have taken pains to ensure fire safety on their campuses, from retrofitting older buildings with modern equipment to harshly penalizing the students who pull false alarms.

Even so, many of the state’s older dormitories, like the Seton Hall University building where three students died in a smoky blaze yesterday, are not equipped with sprinkler systems. Nor are they required to be. Because fire codes have evolved over time, older buildings must add sprinklers only when they undergo large-scale renovations.

Adding to the danger is a common difficulty on college campuses: Because there are so many false alarms, some students ignore the warnings, riding them out in their rooms. At Rowan University in Glassboro, George Brelsford, assistant vice president for residential life and student services, said six of the school’s 11 residence buildings have sprinkler systems, including a pair of buildings more than 70 years old.

‘‘Whenever there’s a renovation, the building has to be brought up to the most recent issue of the code,” Brelsford said. “I have two buildings, from 1927 and 1929, and we did a re-work of them two years ago and sprinklers were added.”

The last dorm fire on the Rowan campus, where about 2,400 of the school’s 10,000 students live, was six or seven years ago, he said, and was confined to one room by the sprinkler system that extinguished the flames.

Some older buildings, dating from the 1950s, do not have sprinklers, Brelsford said, because they have not been renovated and are still under the fire code in effect at the time of their construction. However, the university has gone beyond those earlier code requirements to upgrade fire safety systems in those buildings, he said.

‘‘What we have done is hard-wire all rooms with smoke detectors and put heat and smoke detectors in hallways and common areas,” he said. “These buildings are above and beyond what the original code was.”

He said flame-retardant materials are used whenever possible.

The school runs formal fire drills at least twice a year but also treats any alarm, from a malicious false alarm to a simple smoke condition, seriously. Students who ignore fire alarms are subject to punishment.

The College of New Jersey in Mercer County has added sprinkler systems to all but two of its 14 residence buildings. Three dormitories built in 1931 were retrofitted for sprinklers when they were renovated in 1992, spokeswoman Sue Murphy said.

Chief Joseph Zuccarello of the Rutgers University Fire Department said his firefighters chased down 107 malicious false alarms last year.

‘‘Every college and university has a hassle with false alarms,” Zuccarello said. “It’s amazing. The students go away for winter break and we don’t have any false alarms, and the minute they come back in the dorm, the alarms start transmitting for one reason or another.”

At least once a year, the chief said, university officials inspect every dorm room for items such as candles, halogen lamps, cooking appliances, extension cords longer than 6 feet, overloaded outlets, and posters fixed to the ceiling. All of those items are prohibited in residence halls.

All dorm furniture, from mattresses to desks, is fire-retardant, Zuccarello said.

Michael Massaro, a 19-year-old sophomore at Rutgers, said he inadvertently has tested the university’s fire safety measures on occasion. In October, a smoke alarm alerted him to the melting, smoking remote control he had left on a lamp in his room.

Last year at Tinsley Hall, where he lived, the residents were fined a total of $2,000 to cover the installation of new fire alarms after some 15 false alarms there, he said.

Jamaal Lowery and Jed Herb say it can get awfully cold in their dorm room at Kean University in Union Township, and they had resorted to using an open oven to keep their suite toasty.

But since a fire erupted in their 28-year-old dorm Monday night, they have made sure the oven stays shut.

Lowery was getting ready for bed at 12:30 a.m. Monday in his room at Sozio Hall when the fire alarm went off. He looked out into the hall and saw smoke pouring out of the trash chute. Lowery ran outside, but noticed that some of his fellow students did not follow.

‘‘They hear the alarm all the time and just figured it wasn’t a real fire,” said Lowery, 21, a sophomore from Pleasantville.

Kean officials believe someone threw a cigarette down the trash chute. The blaze caused minimal damage, said Robert Cole, a university spokesman.

Herb, 19, a sophomore from Lacey Township, said he had been across the quad, at Rogers dorm, when he saw fire trucks roll in.

‘‘I thought it was a false alarm, but no one picked up when I called our room,” he said. “People don’t pay attention to that kind of stuff.”

The roommates estimated 10 fire alarms have been pulled at Sozio Hall since the beginning of the school year.

At Ramapo College in Mahwah, many students said it’s not uncommon for residents to stay inside during alarms.

Tiffany Patterson, a 21-year-old senior who now lives in campus apartments, said she got tired of fire alarms going off twice a week when she lived in their dorms. Rather than trudge outside, she hid in the shower.

‘‘I usually stayed in my room most of the time because I assumed they were false,” she said. “Nobody wants to go outside at 3 or 4 in the morning.”

NOTES: Jonathan Jaffe, Greg Saitz, Alexander Lane, Jeffery C. Mays and Mark Mueller contributed to this report.

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Mystery of blaze includes 3 visitors

By Bill Gannon and Guy Sterling Star-Ledger Staff

Careless smoking and faulty electrical wiring have been ruled out as likely causes of the fatal fire at Seton Hall University, investigators said.

While authorities said publicly there was no indication that the blaze that killed three students yesterday morning was suspicious, law enforcement officials disclosed they were looking for three people who had been asked to leave the dorm about 45 minutes before the fire was discovered.

Essex County Prosecutor Donald Campolo, who is heading the investigation, said statements were being taken from anyone who might have witnessed the fire or events leading up to it.

Among the other agencies investigating were the State Police, the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms, and local police and fire departments, Campolo said. ‘‘We’re looking into every possible aspect and every possible cause of this fire,” he said at a news conference, adding, “I have no information to determine this is suspicious.”

Other law enforcement officials, however, reported that a resident adviser at Boland Hall had asked three young men she did not recognize to leave the dorm less than an hour before the fire broke out. They did leave. Police said they were trying to identify the visitors so they could question them.

Fans of Seton Hall basketball had swarmed over the campus after its upset victory over St. John’s at the Meadowlands Tuesday night. Spontaneous celebrations broke out throughout the dorms, keeping students up well past midnight.

The fire began just before 4:30 a.m. in the windowless, third-floor common area of the co-ed dorm, one of the largest buildings on South Orange campus in Essex County. The room is a white cinderblock area with two pay telephones and a cork bulletin board on two walls.

The area, which is open to the elevators, was sparsely furnished with cheap, wood-framed, foam couches upholstered in green plush fabric.

Arson investigators said they have ruled out smoking as a probable factor because there was no apparent sign of smoldering - telltale evidence of a cigarette - on any of the couches in the lounge. There had been speculation that a student fell asleep on a couch with a lit cigarette, but investigators noted that the two victims found in the lounge were discovered not on a couch, but on the floor. Officials believe both had left their rooms and became disoriented and trapped in the dense smoke.

Tests to determine whether the blaze began with an open flame or smoldering materials were expected to be completed today.

There were no indications of an electrical short-circuit, and dogs trained to sniff for flammable substances could detect no indications of an accelerant like gasoline, those close to the investigation said.

One of the building’s 55 fire extinguishers had been used to try to put out the fire, to no effect.

Campolo said, “It’s difficult to say how useful that fire extinguisher would have been, because this was a pretty fast-moving and intense fire.”

Whatever the cause, Boland Hall seems to have been well-known to the South Orange Fire Department.

In just the past four months, the village had responded to at least 18 false alarms at the dorm. The building’s antiquated fire hoses were so old, they were being hauled out of the residence hall last week. The old, brick structure, meanwhile, had a history of small blazes that had forced the evacuation of students.

In 1996, someone set fire to a couch on the fourth floor of the building, causing serious damage. At least 11 students suffered smoke inhalation.

And in 1995, a television set in an unoccupied dormitory room caught fire, causing five people to suffer smoke inhalation and the student residence hall to be evacuated.

The dorm was not equipped with fire sprinklers, but because of its age - nearly 50 years old - it did not have to be, under the state uniform construction code.

State officials said the only fire code requirements at Boland Hall were lighted emergency exit signs, fire extinguishers, and smoke and fire alarms, which were all in place. School officials said the fire alarm system was not linked directly to the village of South Orange, but to campus security officials, who then call for emergency aid.

Officials said that the university is required to undergo a fire inspection once a year. South Orange fire officials would not say when the last inspection of Boland Hall had been conducted, or how the building had fared.

According to university officials, the building’s smoke alarms and pull stations were last tested Tuesday by an external inspection company as part of a routine inspection performed every other month.

The building’s alarm system was also in working order and is electronically checked every day, the university said. The fire extinguishers in Boland were checked semimonthly, with the last inspection in late November.

Investigators confirmed that hoses to the building’s fire protection standpipe system had been disconnected and removed last week. The fire hoses are designed for firefighters’ use inside the building, but had been disconnected because the equipment was no longer of use, said Seton Hall spokeswoman Lisa Grider.

NOTES: Staff writers Ted Sherman and Peggy McGlone contributed to this report.

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Fire coverage strains tiny force

Towns weigh pooled resources

By David Cho Star-Ledger Staff


Exactly a week before yesterday’s fire that killed three and injured 62 students, South Orange Fire Chief Jeff Markey pointed to the difficult expectation placed on the village’s small department to cover both the town and Seton Hall University.

South Orange has 32 full-time firefighters and three fire trucks to cover 16,350 residents in an area that is only 2.2 square miles, and the roughly 11,000 students and staff who work and live at Seton Hall for the majority of the year.

Like every municipality in Essex County, South Orange’s ratio of firefighters to residents - two for every 1,000 residents - falls below the National Fire Protection Association’s minimum standard of three firefighters per 1,000 residents. South Orange’s ratio excludes the Seton Hall population, as no municipality accounts for college populations when it calculates how many firefighters it needs. ‘‘When Seton Hall University is in session, we do have contingency plans that we implement,” Markey said. “But if you think about how many people we have to protect . . . There are many, many houses that take in boarders for nine months out of the year. So when you talk about the minimum standards of firefighters, we are exceeding that (standard) by a lot.”

Markey’s comments came during an interview last week that focused on the possibility of shared fire services with 12 Essex County municipalities. Markey remained neutral on the issue, saying he would wait until it’s studied by the towns before forming an opinion. He was not available for comment yesterday.

Yesterday, no one criticized South Orange’s response to the Seton Hall fire. University officials said that minutes after a smoke alarm went off in Boland Hall at 4:28 a.m., campus safety officers were alerted, said acting Essex County Prosecutor Donald Campolo, who is overseeing the fire investigation.

Minutes after this, South Orange fire trucks were on the scene and calling for assistance from other municipalities, Campolo said. The response was characterized as “immediate and rapid” he added.

But according to supporters of a plan to merge 12 Essex County fire departments into a massive regional fire district, the issue is not whether South Orange is doing its job, but whether the whole system of fire coverage needs to be re-examined.

These supporters said the regionalization plan, which will be studied over the next year, would have only helped to get more firefighters on the scene as soon as the initial fire alarm went off.

‘‘No one denies that regionalization could very well get more resources, more firefighters and more trucks to the scene of the fire faster,” said Terry Reidy, the Montclair township manager who has proposed to study the fire regionalization plan.

‘‘And that would especially help stand-alone departments like South Orange, where you have individual communities that are making decisions on what they think they can afford to fund fire departments and those decisions are driven more by budgetary constraints.”

Reidy said he believes that the Seton Hall fire, while tragic, will only help to bring the issue of regionalization to the forefront of the public’s attention.

This week alone, there were three major fires over three consecutive days. On Monday night, a four-alarm fire in Newark burned down a candle factory, killing a dog and injuring firefighters. On Tuesday morning, a three-alarm fire burned in downtown Montclair, also killing a dog and injuring a resident. And then there were the deadly flames yesterday morning at Seton Hall. All three fires required outside assistance from seven or more municipalities.

‘‘I think the fires this week will show up as a good example of how we can better support fire service,” Reidy said. “This week could be used as a benchmark of what could have happened if we were a regionalized department.”

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Relieved mom: ‘I thought you were dead’

By Steve Chambers Star-Ledger Staff


Archbishop Theodore McCarrick, an early riser, heard the news of the fire on the radio at 5:30 a.m. in his residence behind the Cathedral Basilica of the Sacred Heart in Newark. Within 30 minutes, his secretary had driven him to the nearby campus in South Orange, where he remained for much of the day, leaving only briefly for the funeral of a priest in Elizabeth.

After visiting students at hospitals and on campus, McCarrick led a packed prayer service in the university chapel. He spoke about strength gained from faith and the inevitability of one day leaving this life to be with God.

‘‘There’s no way to express my sorrow over this tragedy,” he said. “The loss of promising young lives, the pain of the injured students and their familes truly is terrible. As people of faith, however, we know God will give us the strength to come through this difficult time, if we ask him.” Prescient newspaper The last time Seton Hall University made national headlines, in 1989, its basketball team lost the NCAA championship to the University of Michigan by a single point in overtime. Though out on semester break at the time, members of the university’s award-winning student newspaper, the Setonian, rushed back to campus to put out a special edition.

‘‘It was a wonderful moment in the sun; the national media descended on us,” said Tracy Gottlieb, a professor of communications, author and former Associated Press reporter who has advised the publication for 12 years. “And we were ready.”

With yesterday’s early-morning tragedy, Gottlieb roused her troops once again. Literally. Phoned about the fire by her department chairman at 7 a.m., the West Orange resident quickly called the weekly’s editor-in-chief, J. Bryan McCarthy, who lives off campus.

‘‘I told his roommate, ‘Get him up and tell him to get on campus.’” Then she sped over to campus herself.

Though young, the staff sees itself as news professionals. “A newsman is a newsman is a newsman,” Gottlieb said. Their reaction, she said, was: This is terrible. Now let’s get a paper out.

As a result, an eight-page special edition, written last night in the basement of Fahy Hall, will be available on campus this afternoon.

For years, the newspaper has been raging against the freshman impulse for prankishness, as well as criticizing the university for not correcting the situation. Setting off fire alarms as a joke, the paper has warned, could prove deadly.

A 1996 editorial put it this way: “Unfortunately it takes a dramatic incident, like someone getting hurt, for people to take notice. The only prudent advice is to remember that even though you may have heard it all before, that next time you decide to hide under your bed could be your last.” Terrible proof When the smoke alarms first sounded, nearly every student’s first inclination was to roll over and go back to sleep. After all, there had been numerous false alarms at the end of the last semester, during finals week.

‘‘I was actually pretty aggravated when I woke up,” said Anthony Neis of Staten Island, who lives one floor above the third-floor commons, where the fire started. “I almost wasn’t going to leave because we’ve had so many false alarms.”

But soon Neis, like others alerted by the frantic screams of their neighbors, came face to face with stark evidence that this fire was real. Bounding down the stairs, he came upon a young man sitting on the floor of the first-floor stairwell landing. The student was wearing only shorts and moaning in pain.

‘‘He was covered head to toe with burns,” Neis said. “The burns were white and red. He was holding his head and rocking back and forth.” Staff writers Even as the Seton Hall campus was pulling together for collective grieving for those killed and injured in yesterday’s fire, there were happy developments for some who had endured hours of uncertainty.

Sylvia and Thomas Rigney from Staten Island got an early-morning call from Thomas’ mother, telling them about a terrible fire at the Seton Hall dorm where their 18-year-old son lives.

They turned on the television and started calling hospitals but could learn nothing about Christopher, a freshman. Then they headed to the campus, arriving there just after noon. They were terrified.

‘‘We can’t find him. They said he wasn’t on any hospital list but we can’t find him,” Sylvia Rigney said outside the Bishop Dougherty Student Center, which had been hastily converted into a meeting place for students and parents.

Although authorities were insisting that Boland Hall, the site of the fire, had been evacuated, Rigney soon heard from another mother whose son had slept through the whole tragedy.

Rigney crossed police lines and told officials she would not leave until they went back in to search for Christopher.

The reluctant firefighters trudged off, returning a few minutes later with her bleary-eyed son.

He had not heard the alarms, the screams, or the banging at the door at 4:30. He heard his alarm at 10:30 a.m., but went back to sleep. What finally awakened him, at 2 p.m., was the sound of firemen at his door.

The young man emerged from the building, sleepy-eyed, firefighters at each side. He was fine except for the embarrassment. A crowd that had gathered cheered.

‘‘I went and hugged him and cried,” Rigney said.

‘‘Ma, what’s the matter with you?” her son asked.

‘‘I thought you were dead. I’m so happy, my heart is back in my body.” Archbishop’s sorrow

NOTES: Rudy Larini and Kitta MacPherson contributed to this report.

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History of fires at Seton Hall



July 16, 1973 A series of fires causes minor damage to four buildings. The fires occur in the administrative offices and dormitories.

Oct. 29, 1977 Foam rubber gym mats catch fire in the basement of Walsh Gymnasium. Some 1,200 persons flee in the middle of a concert. Four are injured.

May 1982 A series of fires is set in the library and graphics lab during the first week of May. There are no injuries or structural damage.

May 11, 1991 A small fire outside the Boland Hall dormitory sends smoke inside the building. More than 500 students are evacuated, none are injured.

March 31, 1995 A television set catches fire on the fifth floor of Boland Hall. Five are treated for smoke inhalation.

Deadliest fires on U.S. college campuses

  • Providence College Dec. 23, 1977: Ten women students in Rhode Island killed in the deadliest college dorm fire in U.S. history. Fire started in a closet where two hair dryers were left on to dry wet mittens.

  • University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill May 12, 1996: Five killed in a fraternity fire started by a cigarette.

  • University of California, Berkeley Sept. 8, 1991: Three killed in fraternity fire when a butane lighter was accidentally dropped on a couch.

  • Ohio State University May 22, 1968: Two killed, 15 hospitalized, dozens injured in case of arson in Columbus.

  • Greenville (Ill.) College Dec. 9, 1997: One killed, seven injured. Fire began in a dormitory lounge.

  • Texas College Sept. 21, 1981: One killed, seven injured in Tyler.

  • University of Tennessee Jan. 11, 1997: One killed, five injured in Jackson. Fire was “recklessly ignited” by two students.

  • Murray State University (Ky.) Sept. 18, 1998: One killed, one injured in act of arson.

  • Rutgers University Nov. 29, 1986: One killed, one injured in Piscataway. Fire caused by faulty wiring in desk lamp.

  • Central Missouri State University Jan. 3, 1997: One dead in Warrensburg. Probable arson.

  • Radford (Va.) University Feb. 24, 1996: One killed in a fraternity fire, determined as arson.

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Students, ignoring peril, turn saviors to keep their peers alive

By Russell Ben-Ali and John Mooney Star-Ledger Staff


Dozens of Seton Hall students made sacrifices large and small to protect their classmates yesterday when all hell broke loose in Boland Hall.

Some - like Justin Fox, an 18-year-old criminal justice major, Dana Christmas, a 21-year-old resident assistant, and Daniel Nugent, another resident assistant - put their own lives on the line on behalf of classmates who were in harm’s way.

Others - like Celeste Banks - simply took time to lend a hand when they could have been tending to their own comfort.

Fox, a freshman from Paramus, found another student in a heap on the hallway floor, gasping for air in the thick black smoke. The student’s face was burned. His hair was singed. His breathing was shallow and his pulse was faint, according to Virginia Wannamaker, 18, a freshman from Irvington who lived in the dorm. Rather than leaving the dorm, Fox pulled the unidentified male student into his own room and wrapped him in a sweatshirt, several of his friends and dormmates said. ‘‘Justin has it in his heart to do something like that,” said Kerry McNeill, 18, Fox’s girlfriend of the last two years. “He doesn’t always show it, but deep down inside, he would definitely do something like that.”

He and other students then escaped down a ladder placed against a window by a resident assistant, Dan Nuygen, who climbed up to stay with the injured student until rescuers arrived, Wannamaker said. Fox, who plans to work one day as a police officer, suffered injuries from smoke inhalation, as well as a burn on his hand, and he was hospitalized in stable condition in Saint Barnabas Medical Center. The status of the other student was unclear.

‘‘He’s definitely a good guy,” said Kristie Ewall, a friend and classmate of Fox. “He knows when he’s needed.”

Christmas was critically injured when she inhaled smoke while pounding on doors and screaming for other students to leave the dorm, said Dr. Sanjeev Kaul, who treated her at University Hospital in Newark.

Banks, 18, of Jersey City, found a classmate gasping for air at the foot of a staircase as she was fleeing from her first-story room. The shirtless young man was covered with soot and ash from the waist up.

Banks, a distance runner on the Seton Hall track team, picked up the student and carried him outside to a group of his friends. “I just picture myself in that place,” Banks said. “I wouldn’t want somebody to leave me there if I was hurt.”

Tears welled in her eyes as university spokeswoman Lisa Grider recounted tales of heroism on campus. She drew special attention to Daniel Nugent, a sophomore resident assistant who was in charge of third floor Boland North. Nugent, she said, began awakening his residents as the alarm sounded and led them downstairs. Then he returned to bring down more. A resident on Ward Place, near the campus, arrived with an aluminum ladder to help with the rescue, she said. Nugent and the resident used it to help evacuate students trapped on the third floor.

At one point, Grider said, Nugent, a trained EMT, administered CPR to an student until paramedics could arrive. He stayed on the floor afterwards, directing firefighters to specific rooms where students were trapped. “He went upstairs four different times,” she said. “These are the kind of young people who attend this university.”

NOTES: Tom Feeney, Bill Gannon, Angela Stewart and Steve Chambers contributed to this report.

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