HALLANDALE BEACH (CBSMiami) – Most of the Hallandale Beach lifeguards who were either fired or quit after a fellow lifeguard lost his job for leaving his assigned area to help save a life say they are not going back.
“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 LopezREAD MORE: Nikolas Cruz Pleads Guilty In BSO Jail Guard Attack
On Thursday the Jeff Ellis Management Company, which has the contract to provide lifeguards for Hallandale Beach’s two beaches and municipal pool, said they were hasty in the firing of 21-year old Lopez on Monday.
“Essentially we were at fault for rushing to judgment in terminating him without getting all the facts. So based on that we are going to reinstate him,” said Ellis.
When Lopez was dismissed, Ellis company officials said his actions had created liability issues and he should not have left his patrol area. Now owner Jeff Ellis said they were operating under mis-information and the beach was, in reality, always covered and the lifeguards did what they were trained to do.
After Lopez was fired, three other lifeguards quit in protest and two others were also terminated. Since then three more lifeguards quit. All of the original six have been offered their jobs back, according to Ellis. All six said have said ‘thanks but no thanks’, they’re not interested.
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.READ MORE: The Return Of Art Basel Miami Beach Is Great News For Local Artists
“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.MORE NEWS: Feds Say Judge Should Toss Florida Gambling Law Challenge
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.