A Lifeguard’s Tough Choice

July 27th, 2012 by Andrea Bennett

Rushing to save a life got him fired. Should this beach policy be changed?

Brought to you by Liberty Mutual's
The Responsibility Project

Here’s a decision that wouldn’t take most responsible people much time to make: Save a life, or save your job? (Yes, the correct answer is “Save a life.”)

For Tomas Lopez, a lifeguard on Florida’s Hallandale Beach, his decision to save a life actually cost him his job. Lopez was fired for making a potentially life-saving move that technically breached protocol. As ABC News reported, Lopez posed a liability problem for his employer by leaving his post without awaiting a supervisor to cover his station.

According to The New York Times, Lopez was well aware of the rule, but he was concerned for a flailing swimmer and worried that the man might drown before his supervisor arrived. In fact, two beachgoers who were closer to the man pulled him onto a boogie board, and Lopez helped carry the man off the board and out of the water. “He was conscious and breathing but was coughing up water and foam,” Lopez said. “He looked pale and disoriented.” After emergency medical technicians arrived and Lopez filed his incident report, his supervisor fired him.

The firing set off a wave of criticism within social media and in the press. Three lifeguards quit in solidarity, including Lopez’s younger brother, and the next day two others were fired. Several days after firing Lopez, the private lifeguarding company, Jeff Ellis Management, offered him his job back. Lopez declined.

Lopez plans to finish his education, and stay out of the limelight. According to ABC, he’s been approached about helping the city create a new policy for beach safety.
What do you think about the lifeguard company’s rule? Is it a responsible business policy or an unrealistic expectation of lifeguards? What new measures would you enact for beach safety?