I have a friend who has been a passionate advocate for public lifeguards on Florida beaches ever since her husband drowned in a rip current while trying to save his son. If she had been successful, this story is one that never would have happened.
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.
This hero made about $8.25 per hour to make sure people don't drown on the very public, lovely Florida beaches, and they fired him because they were worried about "liability issues."
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.
Had he been a public employee, there would have been no boundaries for him to cross, he could have saved the guy's life and just been a hero. Instead, he's out of a job.
Good job, Florida.