Apr 11, 2024

Twin firefighters Manuel and Emmanuel Zuaznabar hoping to inspire next generation at FDNY

The identical twins broke through barriers to join the department and say they want to inspire the next generation. CBS New York's Zinnia Maldonado shares their story.

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New York (WCBS) -- Identical twins Manuel and Emmanuel Zuaznabar broke through barriers to achieve their goal of becoming New York City firefighters, and now they're sharing their story of success in hopes of inspiring the next generation.

Coined the "Z brothers," the 29-year-old, half-Dominican half-Cuban twins were born on Staten Island and raised in Brownsville, Brooklyn. They were first generation and grew up in a packed household with little resources.

Manuel said it was actually a toy drive that sparked their interest in becoming firefighters.

"We grew up with immigrant parents. It was a rough upbringing in New York, and we went to a lot of after school programs. And the city had cops help us out, firefighters at toy drives," he told CBS New York's Zinnia Maldonado. "You see firefighters, they've always been heroes. So when we saw them, as I got older, I learned more about what they did and I decided that's what I wanted to do. I want to be that person for that kid in the neighborhood."

The Z brothers joined the FDNY Firefighter Candidate Mentorship program back in 2018. The program pairs FDNY mentors with candidates to help them successfully complete the academy, which the twins did in 2020.

"We had a special moment when we graduated during COVID. So at that moment, I felt 'I'm here, I made it, my city needs me now, I'm doing what I've always wanted to do,'" Manuel said.

Manuel serves Ladder 123 and Emmanuel serves Ladder 110, both neighborhoods where they spent time growing.

"We respond to a lot of calls in Fort Greene, Brooklyn, and we have the projects there. I spent the majority of my teenage years in those projects," Emmanuel said. "So if we get a call, I see someone I recognize, they'll be like, 'You're a firefighter?' And I see the pride in their faces, like one of us made it to that job."

Manuel and Emmanuel have come full circle and now participate in the same FDNY programs that opened the doors for them, hoping to inspire the next generation.

"Your situation doesn't make you who you are, you can change who you are when you get there," Emmanuel said.

"I want them to see you can be from a bad neighborhood, you can have a hard upbringing, have immigrant parents, and you can work for the city, you can make it. That's what you want. If you put your mind to it, you'll be surprised how many people want to help you," Manuel said.

Fire Commissioner Laura Kavanagh said the twins are a great example of what the department hopes to achieve through its community outreach programs.

"We really love to see that connection between young kids in New York and these programs and who they become when they come to the FDNY," Kavanagh said.

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Please note: This content carries a strict local market embargo. If you share the same market as the contributor of this article, you may not use it on any platform.