Florida lifeguard fired for saving drowning man, then offered job back
(CNN) — The south Florida lifeguard fired for leaving his post so he could save a swimmer outside his coverage zone said Thursday he has been offered his job back.
But Tomas Lopez told CNN he does not plan to return to work.
“It’s another chapter in my life closed and I am just going to continue to get my schooling finished and get on with my career,” Lopez told CNN.
The 21-year-old said his phone has been ringing off the hook with journalists trying to get his side of the story.
Jeff Ellis Management, the company for which Lopez worked, had said lifeguards cannot go beyond the perimeter of the beach they are responsible for overseeing.
Jeff Ellis told CNN’s “Erin Burnett OutFront” on Thursday evening that he didn’t approve of the decision to fire Lopez.
“Clearly, he should not have been terminated for what had occurred,” Ellis said. “I know that he has tried to do the right thing.”
Three other lifeguards quit in protest and two others were dismissed after saying they would have acted as Lopez did.
“They told us we would be liabilities and we had to be let go,” lifeguard Travis Madrid told CNN.
Ellis told CNN the company has offered to bring back those who were let go.
Ellis told the Sun Sentinel newspaper he confirmed that no area of the beach was left unattended while Lopez assisted the swimmer.
The incident occurred Monday at Hallandale Beach in on Florida’s Atlantic coast, north of Miami.
A beachgoer rushed to Lopez’s lifeguard station to alert him to a man who was drowning.
The man was some 1,500 feet outside the company’s protection zone in an area where signs warn visitors to swim at their own risk, a supervisor with the company told CNN affiliate WPTV.
Even though he knew it was outside the company protection zone, Lopez ran into the ocean toward the struggling man and pulled him ashore. The man, he said, had turned blue.
“He was having a lot of trouble breathing,” Lopez said.
A nurse at the beach tended to the victim until emergency medics arrived and rushed him to a hospital.
The man was in good condition Thursday, according to Aventura Hospital.
Lifeguard Szilard Janko said he guarded Lopez’s zone while the latter aided the swimmer.
“They let him go after he performed the rescue,” Janko said. “They fired him basically on the spot.”
After the near-drowning, Lopez said he was asked by his supervisor to complete an incident report.
“At that point I knew I was going to be fired. I knew I had broken the rule,” Lopez said. “In those cases, we are supposed to call 911 and hope they get there in time.”
Company supervisor Susan Ellis previously told WPTV that Lopez was let go for violating company policy.
“We have liability issues and can’t go out of the protected area,” she told the TV station. “What he did was his own decision. He knew the company rules and did what he thought he needed to do.”
Lopez said he started the $8.25-an-hour job four months ago and had hoped to continue working there when he goes to Broward College in the fall.
“I have no doubts I did the right thing,” he said Thursday. “I believe I did what was right, and that if someone needs help you’re going to go help them, regardless if you’re a lifeguard or not.”
CNN’s Kimberly Segal contributed to this report. Read more about this story from CNN affiliate WPTV.