Save a Life, Get Fired

By:Michael Seinberg

A 21-year-old lifeguard in Miami, FL recently helped to save a man’s life and was immediately fired for his efforts. Why? Because the almost-drowning victim had the temerity to almost-drown in a section of beach outside the lifeguard’s official area. Tomas Lopez, a lifeguard and employee of the Jeff Ellis Management Company, was manning his post on Hallandale Beach when he heard screams from an apartment complex nearby. Doing what he was paid to do and trained to do, he radioed his supervisor to cover his post and ran. By the time he arrived he helped to get the man out of the water and began to perform basic CPR. Lopez described the man as “really blue” and he wasn’t referring to his mood.

“He was coughing up water,” said Lopez. “You could tell he lacked oxygen.”  The almost-drowned guy was transported to the hospital where he was treated and is doing fine. Hopefully he won’t want to sue Lopez like the NJ woman who’s suing the off duty cop for saving her life.

Soon after his heroic act, the management company fired Lopez for leaving his coverage area, then took it a step further by firing two more lifeguards who spoke up and told the company they would have done the same thing. Mind you they just spoke up, they didn’t actually break any corporate rules. Oh yeah they did, they disagreed with a stupid policy.  Then two more lifeguards quit in protest.

As you can imagine, this all generated quite a bit of publicity, leading to appearances on the Today show, CNN, and many other interviews for Lopez. The City of Miami, employs the Ellis company to supply lifeguards to the two public beaches and a municipal pool. The company is paid $334,000 per year for said services and has held the contract for the past 10 years. Lopez has been on the job for 4 months and gets $8.25 per hour.

After the flood of negative publicity, the company suggested “liability issues” were to blame.  No surprise to us here at LRANY.  Jeff Ellis (president of the company) himself called Lopez and offered him and the other guards their jobs back. Ellis felt that upon further reflection (huge public embarrassment), that Lopez was “well-intentioned.” Lopez has decided to step back from lifeguarding and focus on his business administration studies at Broward College. I imagine he’s learned a few good lessons here. “I learned that you do what you think is right and you can’t be hesitant,” said Lopez.

Ellis has learned a few things too. “It’s always been city policy whether it’s in a protected or unprotected area to respond to an emergency,” said city spokesman Peter Dobens. After finding out about the firing, Hallandale Beach called for an immediate review of the incident.

When the dust finally clears, one can hope that the Lopez’s bravery will expose how fear of lawsuits is actually making us all less safe.

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