Friday, September 5, 2014

He Ain't Heavy

If I'm laden at all
I'm laden with sadness
That everyone's heart
Isn't filled with the gladness
Of Love for one another.
- The Hollies

Firefighter Andre Fletcher of Rescue 5 in Staten Island was one half of the only set of African-American twins in the FDNY.  In 2001, Zack - the other half of the Firefighting Fletchers and Andre's fraternal twin - was a member of Engine Company 4 in Manhattan.  On the morning of Tuesday, September 11, 2001, Andre (who had just flown home from North Carolina so that he could work a 24-hour overtime shift) was killed in the collapse of the North Tower of the World Trade Center. 

The twins spoke mere moments before Andre and his brothers-in-axes from Rescue 5 entered the fray.  Zack, who had been off-duty that morning, talked to Andre as Rescue 5 was on the Verrazano Narrows Bridge.  Half-facetiously, Zack urged Andre to be careful and to not try to be too much of a "hotshot" telling him that he would see him "on the job."  He did not.  The North Tower collapsed shortly before Zack arrived.  It took the life of FF Andre Fletcher and every member of Rescue 5 who entered it alongside of him with it. 
FF Andre Fletcher was thirty-seven years young at the time he was killed.  The FDNY posthumously promoted him to Fire Marshal, which promotion he had earned but had not yet received as of that terrible Tuesday morning.  He joined the FDNY in January 1994 and Zack, who took the test at the same time but scored ever so slightly lower than Andre, followed in July 1994.   As children, the Fletcher brothers were inseparable, which made their collective decision to join the FDNY a surprise to absolutely no one who knew them.

Life has not been easy for the Fletcher family in the close to thirteen years since Andre was killed in the line of duty.  His body was never recovered from Ground Zero.  At the time of his death, he was separated from his wife and after he died "complications" arose regarding the ability of his parents and of Zack to see and spend time with his son.  Zack, himself, went through some very easy to understand but very difficult to overcome emotional problems working his way through the loss of his "little" brother (Zack was older by a few minutes) and best friend. 

He did of course, honoring not only himself but Andre's memory in doing so.  He ultimately transferred out of Engine 4 in Lower Manhattan and into Ladder 132 in Brooklyn, where he became actively involved in a number of the FDNY's Community Outreach Programs.  In 2011, he contributed an essay/a chapter to "A Decade of Hope", the remarkable work authored by Dennis Smith, who wrote the equally remarkable "Report from Ground Zero".  Zack Fletcher's contribution, much like those of many of the other contributors to the work, is heart-wrenching and worth every moment spent reading it.

It's a long, long road
From which there is no return
While we're on the way to there
Why not share
And the load
Doesn't weigh me down at all
He ain't heavy, he's my brother...


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