HALLANDALE BEACH

Fired lifeguard says ‘no thanks’ when he’s re-offered job

 

The 21-year-old lifeguard fired for leaving his coverage zone to help rescue a man struggling in the ocean is re-offered his job. He turned it down.

cteproff@MiamiHerald.com

After getting national attention on “The Today Show” and CNN when he was fired for leaving his post to help save a man’s life, a young Hallandale Beach lifeguard got a call from his former employer on Thursday.

“Would you like your job back?’’ he was asked.

Tomás López, 21, humbly declined.

“The company offered a real good apology,” said López, of Davie.

Even so, López said he’d rather take a break from lifeguarding and focus on his business administration classes at Broward College than return to the $8.25 an hour job.

“I guess these are my 30 minutes of fame,’’ said López, whose cell phone has been ringing off the hook for interviews for days. In fact, López was so inundated with calls, his friends began answering his cell phone and scheduling interview requests. After speaking to reporters while hanging out at the Dania Beach Pier with his fellow lifeguards on Thursday, the friends said they were tired of all the attention and were headed to lunch.

“I hope my fame will get the rules changed,’’ López added.

López, 21, was fired Monday afternoon by the Jeff Ellis Management Company from the job he’d held for the last four months.

He’d been manning his post on the beach when he heard screams from people behind the Hemispheres apartment complex at 1950 S. Ocean Dr. that there was a man struggling in the ocean.

López knew it was outside of his coverage area, but he took off running, and radioed his supervisor to cover for him.

The unidentified man in his 20s was “splashing around,” and being helped by some other beach-goers when López arrived.

He was “really blue,” but breathing, López recalled Thursday.

He grabbed the man under his arms and with the help of other beach-goers, pulled the man out of the ocean and performed basic CPR.

“He was coughing up water,” López said. “You could tell he lacked oxygen.”

The man was transported to Aventura Hospital, where he was treated and is doing fine, said Hallandale Beach spokesman Peter Dobens.

But because López broke company protocol for leaving his coverage area, he was immediately fired by the management company.

Two more lifeguards, Travis Madrid and Zoard Janko, were fired Tuesday, they said, when they told the management company they would have done the same thing as López.

At least three other lifeguards resigned in solidarity. Among them, 19-year-old Brian Ritchie, a lifeguard supervisor, who said the company needs to rethink its policy.

“This was kind of the last straw,” Ritchie said.

For about a decade, the city has paid the Jeff Ellis Management Company $334,000 a year to protect its two public beaches and municipal pool.

The stretch of beach lined by condominiums is unprotected; there are signs in the area that read: Swim at Your Own Risk.

But that shouldn’t matter when someone is in danger, said Dobens, the city spokesman.

“It’s always been city policy whether it’s in a protected or unprotected area to respond to an emergency,” said Dobens.

After learning about López’s firing, Hallandale Beach immediately called for a review of the incident.

And with the management company’s contract coming up for renewal in September, the city will likely look for different options, said Dobens.

Tom Gill, from the United States Lifesaving Association which has about 5,000 members nationwide, said he was also disappointed with the management company’s reaction.

“It is extremely hard to justify firing someone for doing their job,” Gill said. “They are trained lifesavers. To be told ‘no, you can’t do that’ is a very hard thing to understand.”

News of López’ firing quickly spread nationally. On Thursday, he and his fellow ex-lifeguards appeared on “The Today Show’’ and López was interviewed on CNN.

Upon further reflection, Jeff Ellis, the president of Jeff Ellis Management, said Thursday he believed López was “well intentioned,” and offered him back his job.

If López changes his mind, said Ellis, he will have a job waiting.

“The offer still stands should he reconsider,” he said.

The other lifeguards were offered their jobs back as well, but according to Dobens, their decisions are still being awaited.

Despite being fired, López said he learned a valuable lesson from it all:

“I learned that you do what you think is right and you can’t be hesitant,” he said. “I’d do the same thing again.”

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