The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO

National News

July 5, 2012

Florida lifeguard is fired for saving a life; uproar ensues

HALLENDALE BEACH, Fla. — Lifeguards are supposed to save lives, right? Well, several lifeguards in Florida were temporarily out of jobs this week after one of them saved a man from drowning on a stretch of beach north of Miami - and then was fired for doing so.

That lifeguard apparently left his station to save a swimmer in distress outside his designated zone. Tomas Lopez, 21, said he was dismissed after Monday’s near-drowning, with his supervisor citing liability issues.

In response, several of Lopez’s lifeguard colleagues banded together and either quit in solidarity or were fired for publicly proclaiming that they would have done the same, according to Fox News.

The initial incident took place on tiny Hallendale Beach, about 20 miles north of Miami, and has sparked nationwide interest and outrage - coming, as it does, during the height of the summer beach season. Since then, the story has unfolded rapidly. Most people, after all, expect lifeguards to actually guard lives when they see someone in water danger, regardless of what liabilities and lawyers might say.

The lifeguard staffing firm, Jeff Ellis Management, did not return a phone call and email seeking comment Thursday. But Jeff Ellis, head of the firm, told the Sun Sentinel on Thursday that Lopez would be offered his job back, as would the others.

“I am of the opinion that the supervisors acted hastily,” Ellis told the newspaper. “It was not the appropriate course of action to take.”

Meanwhile, Lopez is set to make an appearance on CNN Thursday night to tell his story.

The controversy started Monday. That’s when a man began struggling in waters about 1,500 feet south of Lopez’s assigned station, according to the Sun Sentinel, in an area where visitors are told to swim at their own risk. Lopez disregarded that boundary, however, to help the swimmer. The near-drowning victim was later hospitalized and is reported in good condition.

The city of Hallendale in a statement said the incident remained under review, even as it suggested that Lopez did the right thing: “We do not have all the facts in this case. We take the safety of all visitors to our beaches very seriously. Whether they are in a protected area or unprotected area, we believe aid must be rendered.”

The Sun Sentinel said the city’s contract with Jeff Ellis Management calls for four lifeguards and one supervisor to be on duty at all times.

Ellis told the newspaper that while he believes Lopez was “good intentioned,” the company’s first responsibility is to maintain service: “We limit what we do to the protected swimming zones that we’ve agreed to service.”


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