UPDATE: The Hallandale Beach lifeguard who was fired earlier this week for leaving his zone to help rescue a nearby swimmer will get an offer to go back to work, his top boss said Thursday.
The offer will also be extended to two other lifeguards who were fired in connection to the incident. Several other lifeguards who have since resigned from their jobs in protest will also be welcomed back.
In a telephone interview early Thursday afternoon, Jeff Ellis, the head of Jeff Ellis Management, said lifeguard Tomas Lopez and the others were fired too quickly.
“I am of the opinion that the supervisors acted hastily, ” Ellis said.
The company launched an investigation shortly after news of the incident began to quickly spread across the world.
But Ellis said since Monday’s incident, he’s been able to confirm that no area of the beach that his company is contracted to patrol was left unattended while Lopez went out of the area to assist a swimmer in distress.
“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 fired, Ellis said.
“It was not the appropriate course of action to take,” he said.
The internal investigation continues, Ellis said.
The company owner said his human resources department will be contacting Lopez and the others to offer them their jobs back.
But on Thursday, Lopez said he will decline.
“They are trying to fix the wrong that they did. I just don’t want to work for that company anymore,” Lopez said. “It’s not out of spite against the company. After all is said, I really just want to move on and get another job.”
At least two other lifeguards said they were fired the next day after being asked if they would have taken similar action.
“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, they told me I was dismissed.”
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 if the local supervisors will be punished for their actions.
City officials on Thursday said they were still awaiting a full report from the company before taking any action.
This developing news story will be updated as soon as additional information is available.
Original story follows:
Executives of an aquatics company will review whether the firm was justified in firing a Hallandale Beachlifeguard earlier this week for leaving his zone to help rescue a nearby swimmer.
The dismissal prompted a media firestorm and an outpouring of public support for the guard, 21-year-old Tomas Lopez of Davie.
“If we find our actions on the part of the leadership team were inappropriate, we will rectify it based upon the information that comes forward,” the firm’s owner, Jeff Ellis, said in a phone interview from Houston, where he was traveling.
Lopez was fired Monday after he was summoned to help a man who had been struggling in the water south of his station. The man had been at an “unprotected” stretch of the beach, where visitors are warned to swim at their own risk, city officials said.
Compelled to help, Lopez said he ran a considerable distance, arriving to find that several witnesses had pulled the man, a 21-year-old from Estonia, out of the ocean. Lopez and an off-duty nurse tended to the victim until paramedics arrived. The victim was reported in good condition Wednesday at Aventura Hospital.
Two other lifeguards quit in protest of Lopez’s firing.
City Manager Renee Crichton issued a statement Wednesday saying, “We do not have all the facts in this case. We take the safety of all visitors to our beaches very seriously. Whether they are in a protected area or unprotected area, we believe aid must be rendered.”
The city said it would await the results of the company’s inquiry, which Ellis said should be complete by Friday.
City spokesman Peter Dobens said the agreement for the protected areas of the beach calls for four lifeguards and one supervisor to be on duty simultaneously, per shift.
“The city doesn’t provide lifeguards in front of the condominiums up and down the beach,” Dobens said. Emergency service personnel, however, respond whenever summoned.
While he does not doubt that Lopez was “good intentioned,” Ellis said the company’s first responsibility is to ensure that service for its zone is not disrupted, potentially endangering beachgoers there and opening up the company to liability issues.
“We are not a fire-rescue operation. We are strictly a lifeguard organization,” he said. “We limit what we do to the protected swimming zones that we’ve agreed to service.”