The driver of a pickup truck was injured in a crash that killed an Ashby volunteer firefighter and her teenage son is also a volunteer on the town’s tight-knit fire department, officials said.
“What are the odds of that happening?” Ashby Fire Chief William T. Seymour Jr. said today. “Just when you think it can’t get any worse, it did.”
Wayne F. Patenaude, 45, suffered a fractured femur in the crash that killed Michelle Martens, 36, a third-generation Ashby firefighter and her son, Justin Fournier, 16, who recently signed up to become a volunteer firefighter.
Patenaude was listed in fair condition today at UMass Memorial Medical Center in Worcester, said Elaine Grady, a nursing supervisor.
The stunning news that two well-respected volunteer firefighters were involved in the fatal crash on a snowy Sunday morning plunged the small town’s department into mourning. The flag at the fire station on Main Street in this town of about 3,000 people on the New Hampshire border flew at half-mast in honor of Martens.
“We’re a very close group here, and this is very hard for us,” Seymour said.
Martens, who joined the force in 2008 and was also an EMT, is the daughter of Walter Hansen and granddaughter of the late Thomas Hansen, both of whom were volunteer assistant chiefs in the department.
“She wanted to be like her grandfather,” Walter Hansen said in a phone interview this afternoon. “They were very close.”
Justin Fournier, a student at North Middlsex Regional High School, hoped to become the fourth-generation Ashby firefighter. He signed up to be a volunteer firefighter shortly after turning 16, the minimum age required.
“He wanted to be like his mother and his grandfather,” said Hansen, his voice breaking. “He wanted to help people.”
Hansen said his grandson also enjoyed playing basketball in the town league.
The teen’s 12-year-old sister, Jasmine Martens, is living with Hansen and his wife.
“We’re all she has now,” Hansen said.
Hansen, who said he retired from the department 10 or 11 year ago, also served with Patenaude. “We’re all close friends,” Hansen said, noting that his daughter knew Patenaude.
Patenaude was believed to have been driving to his part-time job at a Fitchburg car wash at the time of the crash, Seymour said.
Tim Connolly, spokesman for Worcester District Attorney Joseph Early Jr. said this afternoon that the crash remains under investigation by State Police and local police.
Martens was well-liked by her colleagues, Seymour said. The department has just two full-time firefighters, but an army of volunteers swells their ranks to 45, he said.
The department looked forward to Justin carrying on his family’s 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.”
Funeral arrangements have not yet been set, Hansen said.