The driver of a pickup truck who was injured in a crash on Sunday that killed a volunteer Ashby firefighter and her teenage son is also a volunteer on the small town’s fire department, officials said.
“What are the odds of that happening?” Ashby Fire Chief William T. Seymour Jr., said Monday afternoon. “Just when you think it can’t get any worse, it did.”
Wayne F. Patenaude, 45, was injured in the crash that killed Michelle Martens, 36, a third-generation volunteer Ashby firefighter, and her son, Justin Fournier, 16, who was due to start training in March as a volunteer firefighter in the central Massachusetts town, Seymour said.
Patenaude, a 15-year volunteer firefighter, was being treated for a fractured femur and was listed in fair condition on Monday at UMass Memorial Medical Center in Worcester, said Elaine Grady, a nursing supervisor.
Seymour, who visited Patenaude in the hospital on Sunday night, said the firefighter was stunned to learn that Martens and her son were in the other vehicle.
“He had no idea who was in the other car,” Seymour said. “It was quite a shock to him.”
Martens and Fournier were killed when the Kia Sportage in which they were traveling Sunday at about 10:30 a.m. crossed a marked lane on Route 31 in Fitchburg, not far from the Ashby town line. The SUV collided with a Chevrolet Silverado pickup truck being driven by Patenaude, officials said.
The cause of the crash was still being investigated Monday by Fitchburg and State Police, said Tim Connolly, a spokesman for Worcester District Attorney Joseph D. Early Jr.
The flag was lowered to half-staff at the fire station on Main Street in Ashby, a town of about 3,000 people on the New Hampshire border. “We’re a very close group here, and this is very hard for us,” said Seymour, the chief for 15 years.
Martens, who joined the department in 2008 and was also an EMT, was the daughter of Walter Hansen and granddaughter of the late Thomas Hansen, both former volunteer assistant chiefs on the department.
“She wanted to be like her grandfather,” Walter Hansen said in a phone interview Monday . “They were very close.”
Fournier, a junior at North Middlesex Regional High School, had dreamed of being a firefighter since he was a young boy visiting the station, his grandfather said. “He used to be all over the trucks,” Hansen said, his voice breaking.
Fournier signed up to become a volunteer firefighter soon after turning 16, the minimum age requirement. He was due to start training next month, officials said.
“He wanted to be like his mother and his grandfather,” Hansen said. “He wanted to help people.”
Hansen said his family is also concerned for Patenaude, with whom he served on the department. “We’re all close friends,” Hansen said, noting his daughter had known Patenaude.
Hansen said he did not know the circumstances of the accident. He described Martens, the older of his two daughters, as a “free spirit,” who was a devoted mother to Fournier and her 12-year-old daughter, who now is staying with Hansen and his wife, Terry. “We’re all she has now,” he said.
Funeral services for his daughter and grandson were not set as of Monday, Hansen said.
Martens was recently laid off from a sales job, Hansen said. Still, his daughter was in “high spirits,” looking forward to serving others, he said.
“She just liked to help people,” Hansen said. “Family was always important to her, as were her friends.”
Both Patenaude and Martens are well liked by their colleagues on the department, Seymour said.
The department has just two full-time firefighters, but volunteers boost its ranks to 45 members, he said.
Members stopped by the station Monday to support one another. Condolences poured in from other fire departments in central Massachusetts, Seymour said.
Seymour said a member of the Hansen family has served the town’s fire department since 1950. The department had been looking forward to Fournier carrying on the family legacy.
“He was very excited to finally be old enough to join the department,” Seymour said. “Justin was a chip off the old block. Firefighting ran in their family.”