Fired Florida lifeguards won't take jobs back

Tomas Lopez was fired from his job as a lifeguard at Hallandale Beach after he left his designated zone to aid a swimmer in unguarded waters
Tomas Lopez

(CBS News) The lifeguard who was fired for rescuing a drowning man outside his designated watch area will be offered his job back, but neither he, nor the other lifeguards who were fired or resigned in protest, intend to return.

Jeff Ellis, the head of the private contractor who hires lifeguards for Hallandale Beach in southern Florida, told the South Florida Sun Sentinel that Tomas Lopez was fired too quickly after he ran about 1,500 feet south of the firm's boundaries to an unguarded zone to run to a swimmer's aid on Monday.

"I am of the opinion that the supervisors acted hastily," Ellis said in a phone interview with the paper. He added that since the incident, he learned other lifeguards had manned Lopez's post when he ran off to save the swimmer. Given those circumstances, Ellis said, Lopez should not have been fired.

Fla. lifeguard aids drowning man, gets fired

Lopez doesn't intend to take Ellis up on the offer, according to a childhood friend.

"Him and all the other lifeguards - no one is going back," said Shane Wilcox, Lopez's childhood friend who has become an impromptu spokesperson for the lifeguard amid a barrage of media requests.

The other lifeguards are "going to stand with him," Wilcox added in a phone interview.

A supervisor for Jeff Ellis Management, which has had a contract with the city beach since 2003, originally said Lopez was fired because he broke company rules and could have put beach goers in his own section in jeopardy.

"We have liability issues and can't go out of the protected area," Susan Ellis told the Sun-Sentinel. "What he did was his own decision, he knew the company rules and did what he thought he needed to do."

A lifeguard walks on Hallandale Beach in Florida on a windy day.
A lifeguard walks on Hallandale Beach in Florida on a windy day.
AP Photo/Miami Herald, Emily Michot

Travis Madrid and Zoard Janko were also fired that day for siding with Lopez on the firm's policy. Madrid told CBS News he received a phone call recently from Ellis' human resources about having a meeting, but he hadn't had time to return the call.

Earlier this week Lopez told CBS Miami affiliate WFOR that it seemed like common sense to aid the swimmer when someone ran up to him for help. The drowning man was swimming in an area that has signs alerting beach goers to swim at their own risk.

"I think it's ridiculous, honestly, that a sign is what separates someone from being safe and not safe," Lopez told CBS4's Ted Scouten. "Honestly, a job is not as important as a person's life."

Madrid said he wouldn't take his job back, either, because he, "wouldn't want to work for a company [in which you would have to] turn your back on someone."

"If there's anything I can do to save somebody... I'm going to help them the best I can," Madrid said. "I don't know why Tommy had to be reprimanded for saving someone."

Three other lifeguards resigned in protest that day and a fourth quit later. Szilard Janko, who quit and protest and whose brother Zoard was the third lifeguard fired, said he expect others to quit soon.

While Janko said he and most of the other lifeguards plan on finding other jobs at pools or beaches, Lopez may be heading elsewhere. Wilcox, who was eating lunch with other Hallendale lifeguards when he picked up the phone, said Lopez is going to focus full time on going to school for business administration - something he always planned.

Janko said he and the other lifeguards heard rumors of being offered positions at other beaches, although no one's directly reached out to them yet. But the job search can't start in earnest until "everything settles down."

"I slept like, four hours last night," Janko said. "I didn't think this was going to be this big."