Lifeguard Fired For Saving Life Outside Contracted Area

-Submitted by David Drumm (Nal), Guest Blogger

Tomas Lopez, a Hallandale Beach, north of Miami Florida, lifeguard was fired for helping to rescue a swimmer who was 1500 feet outside his company’s contracted zone of responsibility. Alerted to the distressed swimmer, Lopez did what comes naturally to lifeguards, he ran to help.

While Lopez went to help the swimmer, another lifeguard, Szilard Janko, covered Lopez’s zone. Lopez and two other lifeguards were fired over the incident and three other lifeguards quit in protest.

At first the company tried to claim the company could be sued if the rescue had gone wrong:

We have liability issues and [lifeguards] can’t go out of the protected area.

Then the story went viral and the Orlando-area contracting company, Jeff Ellis Management, started backtracking. Jeff Ellis, the head of Jeff Ellis Management, said:

Clearly, he should not have been terminated for what had occurred. I know that he has tried to do the right thing.


I am of the opinion that the supervisors acted hastily.

Lopez has been offered his old job back, at $8.25 an hour, but has refused the offer. The distressed swimmer recovered.

H/T: CNN, WPTV, Reuters, People, WPTV.

35 thoughts on “Lifeguard Fired For Saving Life Outside Contracted Area”

  1. “The life guard’s job is a very vigorous, difficult job. You have to train every day rigorously, you have to be on constant alert, there’s no down time, and the work itself is strenuous. $8.25? That’s nuts! And then to mistreat your employees?”
    Minimum wage in Florida raised to 7.67/hour. That is $306.80/week for 40 hours. The number of States that a minimum wage worker can afford a 2 bedroom apartment: 0 that’s ZERO

    ZERO, now let’s talk about healthcare….

    and just for Dredd, the definition of the word parasite from Merriam Webster: : an organism living in, with, or on another organism in parasitism.
    Definition of PARASITISM

    : an intimate association between organisms of two or more kinds; especially : one in which a parasite obtains benefits from a host which it usually injures

  2. And … the person who might have died without his help is alive and well. Can’t put a price-tag on that.

  3. Why was there no mention of the lifeguard who SHOULD have been covering that ”zone?” Stupid me would think HE was the one at fault, rather than the one who dropped everything and rushed to save a life. and maybe there was a legit reason the other one wasn’t there. That should all be taken into consideration. It sounds to me like this outfit moved like a well-oiled team, and all of them should have been commended. Maybe they could have given them a one time $5 bonus or something! Or perhaps, was that zone not regulated by this company? In which case, the lifeguard STILL did what a lifeguard’s first instinct should have been–he saved a life!

    If this beach was hiring this company of lifeguards via the city or county, they of course would have to go with the lowest bid private company (that’s how we do things in Florida, especially now thanks to our new law which went into effect I believe on July 1st, where they now have to open sealed bids in public view). These private companies that are going to pay as rock bottom as possible. I am actually surprised that these employees made anything over minimum wage. Probably a summer job for this dude. This employee went the extra mile (which of course really is NOT an extra mile, it’s saving a human LIFE for crying out loud). I would think this would be par for the course for lifeguards. Everyone jumped in and did their part, and got fired for it. What is with these corporate types? These people are insane . . .

  4. Patrick,

    Thanks for your insight into the world of rescuers. I no idea it was so cold-hearted for anything outside certain procedures, even when lives were at risk.

    I didn’t say it, but my intent was that the lifeguard in this case will most likely get a great job in a totally different line of work. He’s been burned in this one.

  5. bettykath said:

    “This lifeguard will do all right. All he needs is an employer that appreciates someone who can think outside the box and prioritize his job according to what is right.”

    Bettykath –

    Uh, unfortunately, emphatically, no. If he does it again, he’s just as likely to get fired again. And I’m willing to bet he won’t do it again. Ever.

    TV & movies love to depict the rescue-hero who tosses protocol to the wind; thumbs his nose at inane regulations, and just “does the right thing.” They build plot lines around such sweet but juvenile naivete, and an adoring public eats it up. But in the real world of EMS? Forget it, because it just doesn’t happen. Not one rescuer in 10,000 will risk his or her job, by stepping outside the box. It’s lonely out there, and there are very few paychecks.

    You may recall the Alameda City fire crew who stood on the beach last year for about 40 minutes, while a highly emotional fellow, chin-deep in ice cold ocean water off-shore, stared back at them, ranting, and eventually slipped under water and drowned. A non-rescuer on a paddle board, already in the water, pulled him in to the beach. And most everybody familiar with the story screamed bloody murder about the “uncaring, idiotic fire crew.”

    But the fact was, that fire crew was not trained for water rescue, and their “protocol” was to call those who were trained. Like it or not, THAT is the new normal in the good ol’ USA.

    Far closer to home, I personally was once nominated as California “Paramedic of the Year.” Pretty heady stuff for a young medic in San Diego. Not too shabby. Two years later, I was forced to hire an attorney, just to save my career. Why? Because I’d had the unmitigated gall to give a one-year-old girl – found on the bottom of a jacuzzi – the only airway on the planet that had a chance to save her life. Why did the San Diego county health department want me off the streets as a suddenly “dangerous” medic?

    Because although I had just completed our advanced airway management training program, my certification card had not yet been mailed out yet. Get it?

    You see, having that card in my pocket was more important to the EMS authority, than whether that little girl lived or died.

    The ugly reality is, in the world of rescue, “thinking outside the box” is the surest way to a very, very short career.

    And when it comes to professional who save lives for a living, the priority is emphatically NOT the end result of the life saved.

    The priority is doing it they way the system has drawn it up on paper, in a room far, far away.

    If you get absolutely nothing else out of what I say here, by all means, get this:

    What is “reasonable & normal” in the world of rescue – and much of the world of health care, actually – is not in any way reasonable & normal, to the typical, thoughtful, adult walking down the street.

    P.S. And just for the record, I’ve written some of the protocols for Ellis & Associates over the years (first aid-type stuff) and they are among the best-trained guards in the nation. That’s not to defend their initial reaction in this case)

    Happy Sunday.

  6. AND the supervisors who fired the life-guard would never have taken any heat for it had not the web caught up with them.

  7. Blouise,

    You state the obvious. Think it will happen? I think not, after all, they were just following company procedures. No doing what’s right. Just following orders, ma’am.

  8. “I am of the opinion that the supervisors acted hastily.” (Jeff Ellis, the head of Jeff Ellis Management)

    Sooooo … fire them.

  9. Think about the headline if the swimmer had drowned: SWIMMER DROWNS IN FULL VIEW OF LIFE-GUARD WHO FAILED TO ACT

    They would talk about the guy forever! His life would have been in ruins! His defense, “But it was outside my boundary line!” wouldn’t help him a bit! And then some mushy-kneed liberals would be saying, “But he only makes $8.25 an hour and he was afraid to lose his job,” and they would get attacked for trying to put a dollar value on someone’s life.

    HA HA HA HA HA HA HA! Everything turns to the same story eventually!

  10. “Teh stoopid, it burns!”

    And like acid, it burns until neutralized, OS.

    Best of luck to you, Mr. Lopez. As bettykath said, I’m sure you’ll do just fine with your initiative and willingness and ability to think beyond the rules to do what is right first and ask questions later. While those are virtues, officiousness over thinking never is and usually leads to the ridiculous as it did in your case.

  11. And Republicans wonder why so many people aren’t paying Federal income tax and make an election issue of it; a minimum wage that didn’t leave people at or below the poverty line would help fix that.

    Thanks for the numbers bettykath. Food service wages have a minimum wage that is much lower in many states because of the possibility of tips:

  12. This lifeguard will do all right. All he needs is an employer that appreciates someone who can think outside the box and prioritize his job according to what is right. Let’s hope there is such an employer out there.

    Actually, he was being paid more than minimum wage. FL minimum wage is 7.67. A living wage is more like $10-$12/ hr. (It was about $10/hr when I first started looking at the question. I think it’s up to $12/hr now).

    I took a look at state minimum wages. What an eye-opener! Many jobs are tied to the federal minimum wage, currently 7.25/hr. And almost half of states tie their own minimum wage for other jobs to the federal in one way or another. Some state have two rates depending on the size of the company, either gross sales or number of employees. A summary:

    0.00 AL, LA, MS, SC, TN That’s right. e.g. retail and service employees
    have no minimum wage protection at all.
    4.10 Puerto Rico
    5.15 GA, WY
    6.25 AR
    7.25 AK, DE, Guam, HI, ID, IN, IA, KS, KY, MD, MO, NE, NH, NJ, NY, NC,
    ND, PA, SD, TX, UT. VA, WV, WI
    7.40 MI, RI
    7.50 ME, NM
    7.64 CO
    7.65 AZ
    7.67 FL
    7.70 OH
    8.00 CA, MA
    8.25 CT, DC, IL
    8.46 VT
    8.80 OR
    9.04 WA

    2.00 or 7.25 OK depending on size
    4.00 or 7.65 MT depending on size
    4.30 or 7.25 Virgin Islands depending on size
    5.25 or 6.15 MN depending on size
    7.25 or 8.25 NV depending on whether health ins is provided by
    7.25 or 7.70 OH depending on size

  13. The management of this company are idiots, both for the initial firing and the stupid attempt to backtrack on it. We constantly are told how efficient private enterprise is as compared to government, yet we see that stupid management is common everywhere. The truth is that success, training and experience does not take the stupid out of people.

    Most lifeguards are trained and re-trained. They take their life saving roles seriously and love their work. This is a perfect situation for exploitation and that will happen when short-sighted management puts short term profits above long term growth.

  14. Some county jails pay in the range of $8.00-$8.25/hour for correctional officers. On top of that the county will expect the officer to move to the county, even if they live just a few yards across the county line. If we consider that it is hard to find an efficiency apartment for less than $500/month even in rural areas, there goes half the pay check. Add utilities and gas to get to work, and there is not enough left over to buy basic groceries. Like lifeguards, correctional work can be difficult and thankless. No surprise that most jails have a high turnover rate of correctional staff.

    Part of the problem? Local politicians will not raise taxes even enough to provide basic services for their own safety and well being. Go figure. Teh stoopid, it burns!

  15. “$8.25? That’s nuts!”

    1. Maximization of profits
    2. Most bang for the taxpayers’ dollar
    3. Stupid is as stupid does

  16. I was brought up in small town New Jersey near the ocean. The life guard’s job is a very vigorous, difficult job. You have to train every day rigorously, you have to be on constant alert, there’s no down time, and the work itself is strenuous. $8.25? That’s nuts! And then to mistreat your employees?

    Notice that when a guy protected a customer from violence at Safeway he got fired and then the news went viral on the web and he was reinstated with back pay; notice that this lifeguard saves a life and gets fired and then the story is broadcast on-line and then he’s offered his minimum-wage job back and so forth, this tells us something.

    In the days when there were no FaceBook and Twitter and viral YouTube videos and Sharpton and Jackson and [etc. etc.], whenever there were these everyday injustices, the old “too damn bad” factor was in operation and that was the whole story. Now, because of the odds of getting the thing on-line and viral, the odds have been cut down from 99.9999999% chance that the corporate thugs (or official thugs or government thugs, whatever) get away with all of it to a mere 99.666666% (with a little slippage for significant figures) But we get the idea.

  17. Did the job always pay 8.25 an hour? Because really now, why are we putting the safety of the public in the hands of an 8.25 an hour job?

  18. Very strange. Perhaps they would rather be sued for not helping. I think the guy made up for any cost to them by good public relations. Now the company has negated that with really bad public relations.

Comments are closed.