As a Miami-area lifeguard, Tomas Lopez saw his job as saving lives. But when he helped rescue a drowning swimmer earlier this week, he wasn’t commended for it — he was fired. At his post on a beach in Hallandale Beach, Fla., the 21-year-old learned that a man was struggling in the water just south of his post. Though Lopez knew the man was located outside of his jurisdiction — in a “swim at your own risk” area — he quickly mobilized, teaming with an off-duty nurse to pull the man out of the water.
But Lopez’ employer, Jeff Ellis & Associates, Inc., which has a lifeguarding contract with the city of Hallandale, saw Lopez’ decision to leave his section of beach unmonitored as a legal liability — and fired him for failing to follow company rules.
“I ran out to do the job I was trained to do,” Lopez told the South Florida Sun-Sentinel. “I didn’t think about it at all.”
The firing has drawing widespread ire and incredulity, and prompted four other lifeguards to quit in protest. The backlash prompted Lopez’s boss to reconsider, and on Thursday he was offered his job back. However, Lopez declined — not out of spite or anger, he told the Sun-Sentinel, but because he’s just no longer interested in working for the company. Two of his coworkers who’d been fired over the incident — plus the four who chose to resign — were also invited to return, although many stuck with Lopez.
Jeff Ellis, head of the company that manages the lifeguards, said the investigation of the incident is still underway. Depending on the outcome, local supervisors could be punished for their actions. In the meantime, city officials are waiting on a full report from the company. (The arrangement between Hallandale and Ellis’ company is fairly unique; most cities do not outsource lifeguarding to private companies.)
Lopez said he’s ready to move on to the next step and focus on finishing school. As for the man Lopez helped save, his name hasn’t been released, but he is reportedly in stable condition.