As Zakary Fletcher edged through backed-up rush hour traffic on his way to downtown Manhattan on Sept.11, columns of gray smoke rising from the skyline caught his eye. Instinctively, the off-duty firefighter called his twin brother on his two-way cell.

"Andre, do you know anything about a job [a fire] that's happening in the city?"

Zakary recalled his brother's response: "'Where are you, under a rock or something? Turn on your radio. Two planes have hit the World Trade Center.'"

Andre Fletcher, a member of Rescue Co. 5 on Staten Island, had just crossed the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge on his way to the blazing lower Manhattan towers. "Be careful," Zakary told him. "I know you rescue guys think you're such hotshots. I'll see you at the job."

Zakary never saw or heard from his brother again. Andre and unconfirmed numbers of his fellow Rescue Co. 5 unit are still unaccounted for.

Zakary is convinced Andre never thought twice about rushing into the hellish scene. "He was the type of person who would act first and think after," he said. "He was so gung ho, so very aggressive. He was the ideal rescue fireman."

Andre, the father of Blair, 12, was scheduled to be off that day but was filling in because of a manpower shortage within his unit. He was also scheduled to be promoted to fire marshal. Now he'll receive that ********* posthumously, his brother said.

Out of uniform, Andre was the all-round athlete and the type of person who would often help others, Zakary said. He played both football and baseball for the New York Fire Department. And he spent a lot of time in Wyandanch, where he lived until recently, and in the Bushwick section of Brooklyn, where he and his brother grew up, trying to instill discipline and focus into the lives of neighborhood kids. "He gave a lot of his time and resources to anyone who asked," Zakary said. Sometimes, he tried to do too much, often to the detriment of his own responsibilities.

Even as kids, both he and his twin were smitten with the idea of becoming firemen, Zakary said. A fire station was down the block from the elementary prep school they attended, he recalled. It was hard to pay attention whenever the alarms sounded at the firehouse.

"On field trips to the firehouse, we were overwhelmed with excitement," he recalled. "We heard stories of how firefighters rescued people, how they were big and brave but gentle. We were awed by that."

Zakary also recalled that many fights erupted between the brothers over the pedal fire truck they shared. Andre entertained the idea of flying planes, too. The children of Jamaican emigrants Lunsford and Monica Fletcher, the island's culture was very much a part of the boys' lives while growing up. Not surprising, Andre wanted to fly for Air Jamaica.

Both he and his brother were on the Long Beach Police Department's waiting list of new recruits, Zakary said. Andre was sixth in line. The pay is attractive, Zakary said.

"We always were looking to do better," he said, adding, however, that he doubts Andre would have followed through. "He absolutely loved being a firefighter."