Writes my dear friend, Dr. Chris Matthew Sciabarra:
Today marks the eighteenth anniversary of the terrorist attacks of 2001, which, nearly two decades later, continues to affect our lives as New Yorkers, as well as the lives of those who were killed in Shanksville, Pennsylvania and in Washington, D.C. My annual series returns this year with a poignant installment: Zack Fletcher: Twin Towers, Twin Memories. It is a profile of Zack Fletcher and his twin brother Andre, both of whom were FDNY first responders on that fateful day. I can’t thank Zack and the Fletcher family enough for having provided us with a riveting memoir, in words and photos.
ZACK FLETCHER: TWIN TOWERS, TWIN MEMORIES
By Chris Matthew Sciabarra
Fraternal twins, Zackary and Andre Fletcher, were born on February 25, 1964, to Lunsford and Monica Fletcher, in the East New York section of Brooklyn. Zackary (or Zack as he prefers to be called) was a mere two minutes older than his brother. Those two minutes did nothing to dull the depth of their connection to one another. “Andre and I were the epitome of what defines twins,” Zack recalls. “Although we were brothers, there is a special bond and connection that only twins can understand. We are actually closer than the typical brother and brother, sister and sister, or brother and sister. There is this magical, unseen connection that only someone who is a twin can understand. There would be times when I would be singing a song in my head and he would start whistling the very same song. There would be times when we’d try to figure a solution to a problem and we’d come up with the same exact solution without any spoken word. It was all thought processes.”
Zack has a large family—a big contingent of cousins that still live in Jamaica, the West Indies, and throughout the United States and the United Kingdom. But from the earliest moments of their childhood, their very special familial bond took shape; the twins were inseparable and followed parallel paths. They both attended Junior Academy, a private school located in Brooklyn, from kindergarten to eighth grade. Zack went on to Brooklyn Technical High School in 1978. Andre would later join Zack and they graduated together from Brooklyn Tech in 1982. Upon graduation, Zack attended the New York Institute of Technology for a year, studying Architecture, but eventually took some time off to work—before transferring to SUNY at Old Westbury to study Computer Science. In 1994, on the precipice of graduation, Zack was called to join the New York Police Department (NYPD) as a Police Officer as well as the Fire Department of New York (FDNY) as a Firefighter. “I ultimately decided to choose the FDNY, which is a choice that I have never ever regretted.” He is currently employed with the New York City Fire Department Bureau of Fire Investigation (FDNY-BFI), with the rank of Arson/Fire Investigator (also known as Fire Marshal). “In essence, the Bureau of Fire Investigation is the Law Enforcement Division of the New York City Fire Department (FDNY) and it is responsible for conducting and investigating the origin and cause of fires that occur in the City of New York.”
Writer David Kohn tells us (in an October 4, 2001 CBS News story, “One Twin Waits“) that the brothers had expressed their dual desire to join the fire department from the time they had graduated kindergarten. As it happened, Andre would join the FDNY first in January 1994, a full seven months prior to Zack’s hiring. Andre was stationed on the northern tip of Staten Island, near the Verrazzano-Narrows Bridge, as a member of Rescue 5. Zack was stationed at a Lower Manhattan firehouse, Engine 4, Ladder Company 15.
Competitive as both youngsters and young adults, they were practically inseparable. They did almost everything together. Each bought motorcycles and, later, each purchased cars at police auctions, which they lovingly restored. And as they grew to maturity—at 6′ 2″ tall and glowingly handsome—they were even approached by a talent scout, who was convinced they’d make it in Hollywood. It led to a photo shoot, where each wore the jersey of their choice (see the final photo below). In fact, each of them played on both the FDNY football and baseball teams; in football, each of them served as both Defensive Backs and Wide Receivers. And Andre went so far as to become the president of the FDNY baseball team!
But being in the fire department was certainly not all fun and games. And so it was on this date in 2001, that the parallel paths of two loving brothers took a unbearably jarring turn.
On the morning of September 11, 2001, Andre was not scheduled to work the Day Tour, but ended up working an Overtime Tour. Zack was scheduled to work but switched tours with a co-worker who was slated to retire within the year. His co-worker owed him a tour shift, so Zack made sure to call it in so as not to lose it. It didn’t matter, of course, because before the day was out, every able firefighter in New York City was called to duty to attempt to save the lives of thousands of people who were in the Twin Towers, struck by terrorists who had turned passenger jets into weapons of war. Sadly, Zack’s co-worker, Thomas W. Kelly, on the verge of retirement, would be among those lost at Ground Zero.
The events of the day began rather unceremoniously given that Zack had the opportunity to sleep in, expecting a day off. He was with his girlfriend at the time, and when they turned on the TV in the morning, they recognized that some kind of “big incident” was unfolding in lower Manhattan. The North Tower of the World Trade Center had been struck by some kind of plane. Within moments, the South Tower suffered a similar fate. Reports were coming in via television and radio broadcasts “that all off-duty firefighters and police officers were being recalled to duty and to report to their Commands.” Ironically, Zack’s girlfriend at the time was a New York City police officer. So “upon getting notification regarding the recall, we both made our way via her vehicle to Manhattan where our work Commands were located, which were approximately one mile apart from each other.” But virtually all of New York City’s roadways were locked down; they were only able to get into Manhattan “by piggybacking … closely behind the convoy of Emergency Vehicles. … Upon arriving at the road entrance to the Brooklyn Bridge, we saw that there was no vehicle traffic being allowed to cross.” Showing their IDs, they were able to get access to the bridge, and Zack made his way to the firehouse.
When he arrived, he realized that both units of the firehouse were already gone, having been called down to the Twin Towers. “Upon arriving there, I realized that both units were out of quarters and must have been down at the scene of the incident.” Engine 4, Ladder Company 15 was approximately three-quarters of a mile away from the World Trade Center. Zack donned his firefighting gear and began to walk down to the scene. Just as he was about to leave, an FDNY Fire Captain, who was not assigned to his unit or his station, grabbed some gear assigned to one of the fellow members of the station and put it on. He followed the Fire Captain, but as they started moving toward the scene, a walk that would take at least fifteen minutes, Zack realized about five minutes in, that they “should probably grab a few extra Air Breathing Tanks in the event that they were needed.” The Captain agreed, and Zack returned to secure some tanks. Eighteen years later, Zack can recall the moments almost minute-by-minute: He remembers that it took him about five minutes to head back to the firehouse, another three minutes to gather the tanks and to devise a way to carry three or four of them, “by procuring a small hose strap and tying the bottlenecks together.” He made his way back to the Captain, which took him another 8 minutes—and the Captain assisted him in carrying the air bottles. They were nearing the immediate area, still blocks away from the Towers; the clock ticked toward 9:59 a.m.
“As we were walking down what I believe was Dey Street toward the North and South Towers, we heard an ungodly sound like the onrush of a freight train. We were being accompanied by a few police officers in the area and upon hearing the sound, which seemed to be coming toward us, we all dove into the side entrance of a building that I believe was the Century 21 Building. It appears that that decision … probably saved our lives—as all we saw rushing by was debris … [coming] from the collapsing [South] Tower.” …
…READ THE REST. “ZACK FLETCHER: TWIN TOWERS, TWIN MEMORIES” By Chris Matthew Sciabarra