That Los Angeles Times ran a story today about a lifeguard who was fired for saving a life. Apparently the incident has to do with private contractors, boundaries and liability.
Tomas Lopez, age 21, was at his assigned post on Monday July 2nd, on the beach in Hallandale Beach, Fl.when a bystander alerted him to a swimmer in distress about 500 yards away from his lifeguard tower. Lopez could not see the swimmer and proceeded to the area where the witness directed him. The area just happened to be outside of the area that Lopez was assigned to protect and was in a "swim at your own risk" zone, one not protected by any lifeguards.
Lopez disregarded the boundary signs and spotted the stricken swimmer. He then rescued the swimmer, who was later reported to have been hospitalized in good condition.
Lopez was later fired by his employer, Jeff Ellis Management, a private contractor, who provides lifeguard services to the City of Hallandale.
Apparently, the resultant uproar was instantaneous and loud. Several other lifeguards employed by Jeff Ellis Management were either fired for publicly supporting Tomas, or resigned in support of him. Several national news networks picked up the story as did print media across the country.
The uproar became loud enough that Jeff Ellis, head of the company, told the Sun-Sentinel "I am of the opinion that the supervisors acted hastily" and that "it was not the appropriate course of action to take". He reportedly then offered Lopez and the other former lifeguards their jobs back.
Tomas Lopez declined the offer on a taped Sun-Sentinel interview, as did several other lifeguards.
Susan Ellis, a supervisor for Jeff Ellis Management (any relation?) told the Sun-Sentinel on Tuesday that "We have liability issues and can't go out of the protected area," she said "What he did was his own decision. He knew the
company rules and did what he thought he needed to do."
The city of Hallandale Beach released a statement saying that the incident remained under
review, even as it suggested that Lopez did the right thing: "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." according to the L.A. Times
Apparently the City of Hallandale Beach has been outsourcing lifeguard services since 2003 as a cost cutting measure. Lopez was reportedly making $8.25 an hour.
Quite a change of heart from Jeff Ellis Management don't you think? I am struggling with Mr. Ellis' statement on Thursday, that he felt the termination was not the appropriate action to take, especially when a company spokesman with the same last name made a public statement justifying the firings two days before. Actually, I'm calling BS.
I'm speculating that the decision to terminate Mr. Lopez was at least known by and likely approved by the top management of the company. Jeff Ellis Management does not appear to be that big, they don't even have a physical address listed on their web page.
Apparently, the City of Hallandale Beach's contract with Jeff Ellis Management expires at the end of this year. It might be worth their while to get some more bids or take back their responsibility for lifeguard services.
I'm not sure the city can accept their current level of risk. Their contactor appears to be a liability.
Just my opinion