Management company swimming in criticism after firing Florida lifeguard
A supervisor at Jeff Ellis Management said Tomas Lopez was fired because he broke a rule that prohibits lifeguards from leaving the protected area on the beach. Other employees were fired or resigned in connection with the incident. An internal investigation is ongoing.
Fired Fla. lifeguard: 'Ready to move on'
HALLANDALE BEACH, Fla. — The lifeguard fired this week for leaving his post to help a drowning man was offered his job back Thursday.
His answer: Thanks, but no thanks.
"They are trying to fix the wrong that they did. On a personal level, I just don't want to work for that company anymore," said Tomas Lopez, 21, of Davie, Fla. "It's not out of spite against the company. I really just want to move on and get another job."
Lopez, a Broward Community College student, was fired this week by Jeff Ellis Management, the Orlando firm paid by the city of Hallandale Beach to protect the beaches. At least two other lifeguards were fired in the incident and several others quit in protest.
A supervisor said Lopez was fired because he broke a rule that prohibits the guards from leaving the protected area on the beach. The incident took place about 1,500 feet south of the boundaries, where swimmers swim at their own risk.
The supervisor said Lopez's actions placed swimmers in his patrol area in danger. The unidentified swimmer was treated and released from Aventura Hospital. The company's owner said he believes local supervisors were too quick with the pink slips.
"I am of the opinion that the supervisors acted hastily," Jeff Ellis said in a phone interview. The company began an investigation soon after news of the incident began to spread worldwide.
Many outraged residents have threatened never to visit Hallandale Beach, while others have offered Lopez new jobs. Ellis said that since Monday's incident, he has confirmed that no area of the beach that his company is contracted to patrol was left unattended while Lopez went to assist the swimmer.
"To me, that was the most critical question: Was the beach ever left unattended?" Ellis said. "I have since learned that answer is no. The beach was supervised at all times." Given those circumstances, Lopez should not have been punished for doing what he thought was correct, Ellis said.
The company's internal investigation continues. At least two other lifeguards said they also were fired after being asked if they would have taken similar action. They too will decline to return to their jobs.
"They sat me down and told me that my answer will determine if I get to keep my job or not," said Travis Madrid, 20. "When I told him I would do the same thing that Tommy did, they told me I was dismissed. I don't want to work for a company like that."
Ellis said he was still looking into why the other lifeguards were fired. However, he said they too will be offered their jobs back, as will the others who resigned. The company owner said the outcome of the investigation will determine whether the local supervisors will be punished for their actions.
Mayor Joy Cooper said she was on a cruise vacation when the news spread and heard about the incident when she returned home Thursday.
"I was appalled." Cooper said. "We have worked with Ellis for years, and I think this was a misstep."