The lifeguard who was fired for trying to save a drowning man was offered the chance to return to work -- and turned it down.
Jeff Ellis, head of Jeff Ellis Management, offered to let Tomas Lopez return to his job on Hallandale Beach after he was fired for saving a drowning man outside his designated zone.
Beaches are divided into zones and lifeguards, who work for public entities or private companies, and lifeguards are assigned to a specific area along the beach.
Brevard County Ocean Rescue hires its own lifeguards to patrol the beach, but some cities hire a private company to keep look out.
Jeff Ellis Management has a rule -- if someone is drowning outside a designated zone, then the lifeguard should only call 911.
But on Monday Lopez instead left his area and saved a man who was swimming about 1,500 feet from the company's contracted area. Another beachgoer had told Lopez about the drowning man, who was out of the lifeguard's line of sight. The city says the area was rocky and had no public access.
“He left the zone and did not see anyone in trouble, that's not our policy. Our policy is to call the management and have them respond and also fire rescue,” Ellis said.
"I'm not going to put my job over gonna help someone again. I'm going to do what I felt what's right, and I did," Lopez said.
Another lifeguard was fired by managers, after saying he would have done the same thing to save a life. One other quit in solidarity to his friends and at least four others have given notice to the company.
At the time, Jeff Ellis Management said it was a liability issue.
"We have liability issues and can't go out of the protected area. What he did was his own decision. He knew the company rules and did what he thought he needed to do," said Susan Ellis, a Jeff Ellis Management supervisor.
But Ellis said the company acted hastily, and that the area Lopez was supposed to watch was not left unattended while he went to help the man.
“Once I learned the swimmers were never unprotected, I believed the actions the staff took did not measure termination,” Jeff Ellis said.
Lopez, however, declined the company's offer to return to his job.
The Hallandale Beach community began outsourcing lifeguards in 2003 as a money-saving measure. The company’s contract expires this year.
Ellis said that in the past 30 years, they've trained about 750,000 lifeguards and have never had an issue.