Florida hero turns down offer to return to lifeguard job

Reuters News
Posted: Jul 05, 2012 8:34 PM
Florida hero turns down offer to return to lifeguard job

MIAMI (Reuters) - A Florida lifeguard who was fired after he left his post to help a distressed swimmer outside his assigned zone turned down an offer on Thursday to return to his old job.

Tomas Lopez, a 21-year-old lifeguard in Hallandale Beach, Florida, was dismissed earlier this week by a private company that manages the lifeguards at the city's beaches and municipal pool.

The company, Jeff Ellis Management, said Lopez put swimmers in his area at risk by leaving his lifeguard station to assist a struggling swimmer outside the area the firm is paid to watch over.

A company official also said Lopez's decision left the firm vulnerable to potential legal problems.

At least two other lifeguards were also fired after telling company officials they would have responded the same way. Four others resigned in protest over the company's actions.

Lopez, speaking with Miami television station WSVN Channel 7, said he declined an offer to go back to his job.

"It's not out of spite or anything like that," Lopez said. "It's just that after everything that has happened and everything that has been done, I'd rather not work for the company."

The company has faced growing criticism over the firings.

Jeff Ellis, the head of the company which carries his name, told WSVN his firm was wrong to dismiss Lopez after learning he did not leave his assigned area unattended.

"Having learned that information and validated it independently, I am of the opinion the gentleman attempted to do what most people would do, which is the right thing to help somebody who they believe is in distress," he said.

Peter Dobens, a Hallandale Beach city spokesman, said city officials were awaiting a written report from the company detailing the handling of the dismissals.

Hallandale Beach City Manager Renee Crichton praised Lopez's decision.

"The City would like to commend the actions of Mr. Lopez and the other good Samaritans that came to the aid of our near drowning victim," Crichton said in a statement.

The distressed swimmer was treated at a local hospital and later released.

(Reporting by Kevin Gray; Editing by Paul Simao)