Lifeguard Tomas Lopez was perched atop his chair at Hallandale Beach on July 1 when he heard calls for help. He sprinted down the beach, dove into the Atlantic and helped rescue a man who was struggling in the surf. The swimmer survived; the lifeguard’s job did not.
Lopez was fired for leaving his assigned stretch of beach unprotected while he saved the drowning man.
The problem: Lopez’s employer wasn’t paid to guard that part of the beach. Hallandale Beach contracts with Orlando-based Jeff Ellis and Associates to provide lifeguard services on specific stretches of sand. The rescue happened 1,500 feet south of Lopez’s station.
The company also fired two other lifeguards who backed Lopez’s actions, and six more resigned in protest.
Ellis and Associates eventually conceded that other lifeguards covered the supposedly abandoned area while Lopez rescued the swimmer. It offered to rehire all the lifeguards involved. All of them declined.