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Rowley

Fire chief faces assault inquiry

Fire Chief James Broderick is on paid administrative leave pending a hearing.

Mark Wilson/Globe Staff/File 2002

Fire Chief James Broderick is on paid administrative leave pending a hearing.

A clerk-magistrate’s hearing has been scheduled for April 24 in Newburyport District Court on a charge of simple assault and battery against Rowley Fire Chief James Broderick.

The longtime chief, who is now on paid administrative leave, was summonsed following allegations that he pushed a probationary firefighter, Andrew Nardone, during an argument at the station after a fire call on April 3.

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Depending on the outcome of the hearing, the case may be dismissed or the clerk can decide to issue a criminal complaint.

Eight firefighters, in three fire engines and a forestry truck, responded to the 9:20 a.m. report of a fire that burned down a shed and spread to brush at a Wethersfield Street site, according to Fire Captain Mark Emery.

They returned to the station, on Hammond Street, at approximately 11:30 p.m., and it was shortly after that blaze, as they were rigging the truck for the next call, that the alleged incident took place, according to Police Chief Robert Barker.

‘It was our opinion that there was probable cause that the event took place. . . . It’s difficult for us to have to investigate something like this.’

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“There was a misunderstanding over a duty assignment between what the chief thought and what the firefighter thought was supposed to be done,” Barker said.

A charge was filed that night and investigated by Detective Lieutenant Robert Gamache, according to Barker.

“It was our opinion that there was probable cause that the event took place,” said Barker, noting that there was at least one other witness.

A probationary firefighter is one who has not completed training.

The alleged victim, Nardone, is a call firefighter. The Rowley Fire Department is a combination department, with three full-time firefighters — the chief and the two captains — and 25 call firefighters, according to the department website, who respond as needed.

Town Administrator Deborah Eagan confirmed that Broderick was placed on paid administrative leave beginning April 4.

Eagen said that responsibility for the operation of the department will be split between captains Emery and Ron Merry and Deputy Chief Roger Merry, who is a call firefighter, with the two captains splitting the administrative duties.

“Our policy is to not comment on personnel matters, and this is a personnel matter,” she said.

“It’s difficult for us to have to investigate something like this,” said Barker, who became chief in 2010.

“I’ve worked with Jim for probably 15 years. I haven’t been chief for all that time, but have been with the Rowley Police Department for that long and worked hand in hand with him for quite a while,” he said. “It’s something you don’t expect to see.”

Nicole Reilly, a Salisbury-based defense attorney who is representing Broderick, said she had not yet seen a report and could not comment on the facts of the case at this time.

“Chief Broderick is a very well-respected, well-liked member of the community,” she said.

“He’s really quite distraught at the situation presently. He’s overwhelmed, I will tell you, by the outpouring of support from family and friends, and the local community.”

When reached, Nardone declined comment.

David Rattigan can be reached at DRattigan.Globe@gmail.­com.

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