Lifeguard’s controversial firing under review

Dylan Stableford
The Lookout

Amid a public outcry, officials in Florida say they plan to review whether the firing of a lifeguard who left his "zone" to help save a swimmer was justified.

Tomas Lopez, the 21-year-old lifeguard, was fired on Monday after he left his station to help a man who had been pulled out of the water in an unprotected area of Hallandale Beach. According to the Orlando Sun Sentinel, Lopez and an off-duty nurse tended to the man, a 21-year-old from Estonia, until paramedics arrived. The man—who is recovering at a local hospital—was in a "swim at your own risk" area of the beach about 1,500 feet south of the boundary lifeguards are expected to patrol.

"I was on stand, and guests came up to me and told me there was someone drowning, that people were screaming and so I started running in the direction," Lopez told NBC Miami. "I ran out to do the job I was trained to do—I didn't think about it at all."

Lopez' dismissal sparked near-immediate criticism; two fellow guards quit in protest.

"We are not a fire-rescue operation," Jeff Ellis, head of company that manages the lifeguards, told the paper. "We are strictly a lifeguard organization—we limit what we do to the protected swimming zones that we've agreed to service." The company has provided lifeguards for the area's public beaches and pools since 2003.

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

"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," Ellis added. The review is expected to be completed Friday.

"We take the safety of all visitors to our beaches very seriously," Hallandale Beach City Manager Renee Crichton said in a statement. "Whether they are in a protected area or unprotected area, we believe aid must be rendered."