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Thursday, July 5, 2012

US Lifeguard Fired for Rescuing Man Outside His Zone

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A young lifeguard in Florida has lost his job after rescuing a drowning man in a section of beach he was not assigned to patrol, local news media reported Wednesday.

Tomas Lopez, 21, was manning his post on Hallandale Beach, north of Miami, on Monday afternoon when a beach-goer alerted him to a swimmer struggling in an "unprotected" part of the beach. "It was a long run, but someone needed my help. I wasn't going to say no," said Lopez, quoted by the South Florida Sun-Sentinel newspaper and WFOR television on their websites.

The unidentified man was rescued, then rushed to hospital where he remains in intensive care. But when Lopez went to file an incident report, he was fired for going 500 yards (meters) out of his assigned area. "They didn't tell me in a bad way. It was more like they were 'sorry, but rules are rules,'" Lopez said. "I couldn't believe what was happening."

"We have liability issues and can't go out of the protected area," explained a supervisor for the private contractor that supplies lifeguards for Hallandale Beach, a popular destination for Canadian winter holiday makers. "What he did was his own decision. He knew the company rules and did what he thought he needed to do."

No longer in a job that pays $8.25 (6.60 euros) an hour, Lopez said he would do what he did again if he had to. "It was the moral thing to do," he said. "I would never pick a job over my morals."


Meanwhile, Executives of an aquatics company will review whether the firm was justified in firing a Hallandale Beach lifeguard earlier this week for leaving his zone to help rescue a nearby swimmer.

The dismissal prompted a media firestorm and an outpouring of public support for the guard, 21-year-old Tomas Lopez of Davie. Jeff Ellis Management, the Orlando-area company under contract with Hallandale Beach since 2003 to provide lifeguards at two public beaches, announced Wednesday that it would immediately interview the managers and workers involved in the incident to determine whether any safety protocols were violated. "If we find our actions on the part of the leadership team were inappropriate, we will rectify it based upon the information that comes forward," the firm's owner, Jeff Ellis, said in a phone interview from Houston, where he was traveling. Two other lifeguards quit in protest of Lopez's firing.

City Manager Renee Crichton issued a statement Wednesday saying, "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 city said it would await the results of the company's inquiry, which Ellis said should be complete by Friday.

While he does not doubt that Lopez was "good intentioned," Ellis said the company's first responsibility is to ensure that service for its zone is not disrupted, potentially endangering beachgoers there and opening up the company to liability issues. "We are not a fire-rescue operation. We are strictly a lifeguard organization," he said. "We limit what we do to the protected swimming zones that we've agreed to service."

Sources & Image Credit: Sun Sentinel and Telegraph via Everything in Budget Blogspot


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