Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Lifeguard offered job back, says no

Fired for leaving post to save man's life

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MIAMI -- After getting national attention on the Today show and CNN when he was fired for leaving his post to help save a man's life, a young Florida lifeguard got a call from his former employer on Thursday.

"Would you like your job back?" he was asked.

Tomas Lopez, 21, humbly declined.

"The company offered a real good apology," said Lopez, of Davie, Fla.

Even so, Lopez said he'd rather take a break from lifeguarding and focus on his business administration classes at Broward College than return to the $8.25 an hour job.

"I guess these are my 30 minutes of fame," said Lopez, whose cellphone has been ringing off the hook for interviews. In fact, Lopez was so inundated with calls that his friends began answering his phone and scheduling interview requests.

"I hope my fame will get the rules changed," Lopez added.

Lopez, 21, was fired Monday by the Jeff Ellis Management Company from the Hallandale Beach, Fla., job he'd held for the last four months.

He'd been manning his post on the beach when he heard screams from people by an apartment complex that there was a man struggling in the ocean.

Lopez knew it was outside his coverage area, but took off running and radioed his supervisor to cover for him.

The unidentified man in his 20s was "splashing around," and being helped by some other beachgoers when Lopez arrived. He was "really blue," but breathing, Lopez recalled Thursday.

He grabbed the man under his arms and with the help of others, pulled the man out of the ocean and performed basic CPR.

"He was coughing up water," Lopez said. "You could tell he lacked oxygen."

The man was transported to Aventura Hospital, where he was treated and is doing fine, said Hallandale Beach spokesman Peter Dobens.

But because Lopez broke company protocol for leaving his coverage area, he was immediately fired by the management company.

Two more lifeguards, Travis Madrid and Zoard Janko, were fired Tuesday, they said, when they told the company they would have done the same thing as Lopez. At least three other lifeguards resigned in solidarity.

The other lifeguards were also offered their jobs back, but had yet to make up their minds.

For about a decade, the city has paid the Jeff Ellis Management Company $334,000 a year to protect its two public beaches and municipal pool.

The stretch of beach lined by condos is unprotected. Signs in the area read: Swim At Your Own Risk.

But that shouldn't matter when someone is in danger, said Dobens, the city spokesman. "It's always been city policy whether it's in a protected or unprotected area to respond to an emergency," he said.

With the management company's contract coming up for renewal in September, the city will likely look for different options, Dobens said.

 

-- McClatchy Newspapers

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition July 6, 2012 A18

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