HALLANDALE BEACH (CBSMiami) – Lifeguard Tomas Lopez’s journey this week has been all over the map. He went from being hailed for helping save a life, to being fired for leaving his beach, to being offered his job back.
But Monday, Lopez will once again be hailed, this time by Hallandale Beach. Mayor Joy Cooper told CBS4’s Carey Codd Friday that Lopez will receive a key to the city in a Monday morning news conference.
Lopez, and the victim he helped save, will both be in attendance at the Monday ceremony.
Lopez said it began Monday when someone came up to his lifeguard tower and told him there was a person in trouble out in the water.
“A guest come up to me and told me someone’s drowning,” Lopez said.
He then took off down the beach but by the time he Lopez arrived, several people had pulled the drowning man to shore.
“I went under both his arms while another guest carried him under his legs, like a cradle carrying him,” said Lopez.
Lopez said the man appeared to be semi-conscious and had water in his lungs. He and an off-duty nurse rendered aid until paramedics arrived. That victim was released from the hospital Thursday afternoon.
After the rescue, Lopez said his supervisor asked him to fill out an incident report and then fired him for leaving his assigned area.
The rescue was performed about 1,500 feet south of the protective boundaries set by Lopez’s employer. A key issue, according to Ellis, was whether the person in distress was visible from Lopez’s life guard tower.
“I didn’t see him, I just started running towards his direction,” said Lopez.
“If that’s the case, then what happened here is not appropriate according to our agreement,” said Ellis. “It doesn’t mean it was right or wrong, I’m sure the young man was well intentioned, what it does mean is that it requires revisiting with the city what they want to do in terms of expectations of the lifeguards protecting their beach.”
Other lifeguards watched Lopez’s area during the rescue and were on the phone with 911 operators during the incident
“I think it’s ridiculous, honestly, that a sign is what separates someone from being safe and not safe,” said Lopez. “Honestly, a job is not as important as a person’s life.”
Lopez became a lifeguard four months ago after passing the company’s requirements, which include swimming and physical exams. The job pays $8.25 an hour, the lifeguards said.
Hallandale Beach began outsourcing its lifeguards in 2003 to save money. The city pays Jeff Ellis and Associates about $334,000 a year to provide lifeguards. Ellis contract with the city expires this year.
In the wake of Lopez’s firing, several other life guards quit the company, Jeff Ellis Management Company. The company tried to hire the lifeguards back Thursday afternoon, but were rebuffed by Lopez and others.
“It’s not that I despise the company or any bad negative feelings of the company, it’s just that I would rather not work for the company,” said Tomas Lopez.