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Hallandale Beach lifeguard fired after participating in beach rescue

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#1 jnelsoninjax

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Posted 04 July 2012 - 11:53

HALLANDALE BEACH—

As lifeguards are paid and trained to do, Tomas Lopez rushed down the beach to rescue a drowning man — and then got fired for it.

The problem: Lopez stepped out of the beach zone his company is paid to patrol, a supervisor said Tuesday.

"I ran out to do the job I was trained to do," said Lopez, 21, of Davie. "I didn't think about it at all."

At least two other lifeguards have quit in protest.

"What was he supposed to do? Watch a man drown?" asked one, Szilard Janko.

Lifeguards in Hallandale Beach work for Orlando-based company Jeff Ellis and Associates, which has been providing lifeguard services for the city's beaches and pools since 2003.

Company officials on Tuesday said Lopez broke a rule that could've put beachgoers in his designated area in jeopardy. The firm could ultimately have been sued, officials said.

"We have liability issues and can't go out of the protected area," said supervisor Susan Ellis. "What he did was his own decision. He knew the company rules and did what he thought he needed to do."

Lopez said he was sitting at his post at about 1:45 p.m. Monday when someone rushed to his stand asking for help. Lopez said he noticed a man struggling in the water south of his post. The man was previously swimming in an "unprotected" stretch of the beach, city officials confirmed Tuesday.

"It was a long run, but someone needed my help. I wasn't going to say no," he said.

Company officials said the rescue took place about 1,500 feet south of the company's protective boundaries. The unprotected area has signs alerting beachgoers to swim at their own risk.

By the time Lopez arrived, several witnesses had pulled the unidentified man out of the water. Lopez said the man appeared semi-conscious and had water in his lungs.

Lopez said he and a off-duty nurse attended to the man until the city's paramedics arrived.

The man, whose identity was not released because of medical privacy laws, was taken to Aventura Hospital, where he remained in the intensive care unit Tuesday, said city spokesman Peter Dobens.

After the incident, Lopez said his boss asked him to fill out an incident report. His boss then fired him for leaving 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."

Lopez became a lifeguard four months ago after passing the company's requirements, which include swimming and physical exams. The job pays $8.25 an hour, the lifeguards said.

Company officials said other lifeguards watched over Lopez's area during the rescue and were on the phone with 911 operators.

"The beach remained protected at all times," Ellis said.

She added that the firing and the resignations will not affect manpower during the Fourth of July holiday.

City administrators declined to comment Tuesday, indicating that the firing was a personnel decision made by a private company.

City Mayor Joy Cooper was out of town and could not be reached for comment. Commissioners Keith London and Alexander Lewy each said Tuesday they had not heard of the incident.

Hallandale Beach began outsourcing its lifeguards in 2003 as a money-saving measure. The city pays the company about $334,000 annually to provide four lifeguards and one supervisor at the beach year-round, said Dobens. The company also provides lifeguard services at the city's pools as part of the contract.

The company's contract expires this year.

Tuesday, Lopez acknowledged breaking a rule, but said he would do it again if the situation called for it.

"It was the moral thing to do," Lopez said. "I would never pick a job over my morals."
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#2 Nick H.

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Posted 04 July 2012 - 11:59

Company officials on Tuesday said Lopez broke a rule that could've put beachgoers in his designated area in jeopardy.
...
"The beach remained protected at all times," Ellis said.

So where is the issue? The beach continued to be protected in the guy's absence.

"It was the moral thing to do," Lopez said. "I would never pick a job over my morals."

Good on him.

#3 OP jnelsoninjax

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Posted 05 July 2012 - 12:40

Hallandale Beach lifeguard's firing prompts outcry, review

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.

Lopez was fired Monday after he was summoned to help a man who had been struggling in the water south of his station. The man had been at an "unprotected" stretch of the beach, where visitors are warned to swim at their own risk, city officials said.

Compelled to help, Lopez said he ran a considerable distance, arriving to find that several witnesses had pulled the man, a 21-year-old from Estonia, out of the ocean. Lopez and an off-duty nurse tended to the victim until paramedics arrived. The victim was reported in good condition Wednesday at Aventura Hospital.

Company officials said the rescue occurred about 1,500 feet south of the firm's boundaries.

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.

City spokesman Peter Dobens said the agreement for the protected areas of the beach calls for four lifeguards and one supervisor to be on duty simultaneously, per shift.

"The city doesn't provide lifeguards in front of the condominiums up and down the beach," Dobens said. Emergency service personnel, however, respond whenever summoned.

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 beach goers 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."
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#4 Buttus

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Posted 05 July 2012 - 12:52

wow, talk about a heartless company!

#5 Nick H.

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Posted 05 July 2012 - 12:58

wow, talk about a heartless company!

Well I can understand their point to an extent. If he had been the only lifeguard in the area then he should be expected to maintain his area, not something outside of his area.

At the same time, and as the original article points out, when he left his post to save the person drowning, there were still other guards in the area who were able to supervise the intended area while he went to help out. I don't see the problem from the company's standpoint.

#6 BajiRav

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Posted 05 July 2012 - 13:03

wow, talk about a heartless company!

True but i can also imagine some ******* suing the company for lack of enough lifeguards!

#7 MDboyz

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Posted 05 July 2012 - 13:04

I would do the samething as the lifeguard; however, I don't blame the company. There are some jerks have sued people in the past even when they try to rescue them. I even remember when we were taught CPR at school, but the teacher told us not to do so to people. If you don't have the license for CPR, people can sue you.

#8 Nick H.

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Posted 05 July 2012 - 13:05

True but i can also imagine some ******* suing the company for lack of enough lifeguards!

If it did come down to the man trying to sue the kid, the company could just say, "you're on your own, you left your zone." It would suck for the kid, but the company would take zero responsibility for it because he shouldn't have been there in the first place.

#9 vladmihaelescu

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Posted 05 July 2012 - 13:30

Clearly the swimmers fault. That poor excuse of a life should have died. We'd be better off without pathetic swimmers.

#10 Nick H.

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Posted 05 July 2012 - 13:32

Clearly the swimmers fault. That poor excuse of a life should have died. We'd be better off without pathetic swimmers.

That's a bit harsh. It's not like the water is our natural environment anymore. For all we know he could have been wading out and walked out of his depth. From there panic takes over, and before you know it you're drowning.

EDIT: In fact, by your reasoning we shouldn't have anyone keeping us safe from anything. No lifeguards, no police, no ambulances...if you don't know how to react in a situation, tough luck!

#11 Buttus

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Posted 05 July 2012 - 15:27

Clearly the swimmers fault. That poor excuse of a life should have died. We'd be better off without pathetic swimmers.


not really, the riptides here can get pretty bad, and if you're not paying attention, you can get pulled out far from shore before you realize it... and even strong swimmers are in trouble then! granted, the guy might not have known what to do and paniced which made it worse

i just couldn't imagine that if that guy's boss was standing there, and people ran over asking for help, the boss would have told them 'nope, sorry, we can't go over there. lets just sit and watch the guy drown'....