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Lifeguard fired for saving drowning man

By David Ferguson
Thursday, July 5, 2012 8:47 EDT
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A group of lifeguards in Hallandale Beach, Florida are out of work after one of their coworkers, 21-year-old Tomas Lopez, was fired for rescuing a drowning man outside his company’s zone of protected beach. Several of Lopez’s coworkers have resigned as a show of solidarity or have been fired for refusals to assure the company that they would not do the same.

Lopez was on duty on Monday at about 1:45 in the afternoon when he was informed that a man was drowning.

“I’m looking, I don’t see anyone,” he told a reporter from Orlando’s ABC affiliate station, WFTV, “They said, ‘He’s way down over there,’ so I just started running.”

A hundred yards down the beach, a man lay blue and gasping in the shallows. “I could see he’s got water in his lungs,” said Lopez, who worked with an off-duty nurse to keep the man alive until paramedics arrived.

When the lifeguard arrived back at his post, a supervisor told him to fill out an incident report, then fired him for violating company policy. Now, a number of Lopez’s fellow lifeguards have turned in their jerseys and whistles rather than support a company policy that would have them ignore people in peril.

“What we’re supposed to do is just basically watch them die,” said one guard, a state of affairs that the men believe is inhumane and untenable, hence their decision to resign en masse.

The lifeguards were employed by the Orlando-based company Jeff Ellis and Associates, which forbids its employees from operating outside the company’s legally defined zones to avoid the risk of lawsuits. Lopez performed the rescue about 1,500 feet beyond the borders of the protected area, where signs are posted that inform beach-goers that they are swimming at their own risk.

Watch this video, which aired Wednesday, July 4, and is embedded via WFTV, below:

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