Miami-Dade Fire Rescue Chief Robert Maler is a horrible boss, lifeguards say

When New Line Cinema decides to make a sequel to the movie Horrible Bosses, studio executives should use Miami-Dade Fire Rescue Chief Robert Maler for inspiration. The 33-year county veteran, who oversees more than two dozen lifeguards protecting beachgoers at Crandon and Haulover parks, has been the subject of four county investigations into his abrasive, demoralizing management style. Just last year, the fire department's human resources division and the internal affairs unit of Miami-Dade Police investigated allegations by 13 Crandon Park lifeguards that Maler created a hostile work environment.

"Maler is a despot," says Alex Quesada, one of the accusers. "He is not right in the head."

The IA probe sustained 11 allegations against Maler, including:

• Disputing female lifeguard Tayli Ramos's claim that her menstrual cycle was the reason she went home sick one day.

• Docking one day's pay from Francisco DePinedo even though the lifeguard had received permission from another supervisor to take an emergency day off to fix a busted water pipe at his home.

• Purposely making Julio Freixas wait 20 minutes to be relieved because the lifeguard asked to use the bathroom.

Similar complaints against Maler, who declined to comment through fire department spokeswoman Griselle Marino, were probed in 1997 and 2007. Both concluded the captain's rude ways contributed to an unhealthy work environment that interfered with public safety. And despite recommendations that Maler have limited to no interaction with the lifeguards, he was never removed from his post.

This past September 16, a disciplinary panel again recommended that Maler "no longer be involved with day-to-day operations of the units and the employees."

Eight months later, Maler — who makes $81,683 a year plus benefits — is still overseeing the lifeguards. Meanwhile, the fire department — at the behest of Mayor Carlos Gimenez — recently fired two lifeguards to help trim the budget. Quesada and three colleagues (who won't go on the record for fear of retaliation) tell Riptide that Maler has a godfather who protects him: his boss, Special Operations Division Chief Raymond Barreto.

Indeed, though 26 lifeguards signed a February 28 letter to Barreto pleading that he remove Maler, the $138,668-a-year division chief is not budging. Barreto insists the efforts to remove Maler are motivated by a few disgruntled lifeguards who intimidated others into joining their rebellion.

"I have never witnessed Chief Maler disrespecting others or abusing authority," says Barreto, who denies favoring him. "He has faced the daunting task of turning what was once an easy job for vacationing college students into a professional safety agency."

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Francisco Alvarado was born in Nicaragua and grew up in Miami, giving him unique insight into the Magic City and all its dark corners. An investigative reporter with a knack for uncovering corruption, Alvarado made his bones as a staff writer at Miami New Times and remains in dogged pursuit of the next juicy story.