In a few short months, on Jan. 19, 2010, the terrible fire at Seton Hall University will be a 10-year-old statistic. This dormitory fire killed three students and injured more than 50 other students. While business continuity professionals are tempted to talk about the negatives associated with a fire – the cause, the damage, the injuries, how could it have been prevented, etc. – this fire had a very uplifting story to it as well.
I would like to share this uplifting story to remind us all that we have some people in our country of whom we can be very proud. Dana Christmas is one of them.
Christmas is one of the Seton Hall students who made a huge sacrifice to protect the dorm students in danger during of the fire. She was a 21-year-old resident assistant at Boland Hall, a large dormitory that housed 600 freshmen. She put her life on the line on behalf of classmates who were in harm’s way.
When the fire alarms sounded around 4:25 a.m. most students did not evacuate immediately. Why? They had become accustomed to ignoring the alarms because they already had experienced the sounding of 18 false alarms from September to Jan. 19. Most of the dorm students simply rolled over and went back to sleep.
When Christmas was awakened by the fire alarm, she checked the hall. It was filled with smoke. She realized this really was a fire. She could have fled the burning building immediately. No one would have thought any the less of her. But she didn’t.
According to an article by Seamus McGraw, “The freshmen, her ‘babies,’ as she called them, needed her. ‘I just couldn’t leave them like that,’ she said later.
“And so, as the flames and smoke rushed around her, Dana ran from room to room, pounding on doors, trying to awaken the students. Suddenly she felt a searing pain on the back of her head. Her scalp had burst into flames, and instinctively, she tried to smother the fire with her hands. Her hands too, caught fire before she could put out the flames.
“Despite her pain, Dana remained in the building, trying to alert the remaining students until the flames and smoke and pain of her own terrible injuries overcame her. To this day she still doesn’t know how she escaped from the fire. All she knows for certain is that eventually she collapsed. In the haze of pain and memory, she has a vague recollection of being carried down the stairs to safety.”
According to the Philadelphia Daily News, Christmas was critically injured when she inhaled smoke while pounding on doors and screaming for other students to leave the dorm. She has endured many operations to replace skin which was burned on more than 60 percent of her body.
Early on, it was touch and go for Christmas in the shock/trauma section of University Hospital in Newark, NJ. Her prognosis was uncertain. She ran the risk of lethal infection caused by the burns. She also ran the risk of pneumonia, because she inhaled the smoke.
The following is an excerpt from a TV program hosted by Maria Shriver entitled – “The Power of One.”
“Without thinking of her own well-being, Dana ran through the halls to alert her dorm-mates that their lives were in danger. Although Dana suffered burns on over 63 percent of her body, her selfless act of heroism saved many young lives. Today she is undergoing intense rehabilitation and has been honored by the state of New Jersey with a scholarship fund in her name.
Her effort to save others earned her accolades and honors, including a scholarship at the university in her name. But it also left her at first in a coma, and then nearly helpless, unable to feed herself or get dressed. She has been through 16 operations and long sessions of physical therapy. There are more to come. Her right hand is nearly useless. She has had to learn to use her left. It is awkward.
‘’I was embarrassed about my right hand,’’ she said. ‘’It is disfigured. I use it now, but I cut slowly. It took me a long time to look in the mirror, to accept the person I have become.’’
Dana Christmas Scholarship for Heroism
The Higher Education Student Assistance Authority (HESSA) established the Dana Christmas Scholarship to honor the Seton Hall student, who is credited with saving lives and helping many students avoid serious injury during the tragic dormitory fire on January 19, 2001. Christmas, who was a resident advisor in the Boland Hall dormitory, passed up multiple opportunities to leave the burning building in order to help evacuate her fellow students.
Christmas’s extraordinary actions, taken without regard for her personal safety, prevented what could have been an even more catastrophic loss of life. Her unselfish concern for others represents the ultimate example of personal responsibility.
In her honor and in this spirit, this scholarship recognizes and honors young New Jerseyans for exceptional acts of heroism.” (HESSA)
Christmas is widely known as the “Angel of Boland Hall,” because she saved countless lives by alerting students of the fire even as she herself was burning. If you’re interested in hearing Christmas’s story from her personally, search “Dana Christmas Story” at You Tube.
In conclusion, let me say, on behalf of many disaster recovery/business continuity professionals throughout the world, “Thanks Dana, for being the person you are.”
Ed Devlin, CBCP, has provided business recovery planning consulting services since 1973 when he co-founded Devlin Associates. Since then, Devlin has assisted more than 300 companies in the writing of their business recovery plans and has made more than 800 seminars and presentations worldwide.