HALLANDALE BEACH, Fla. -- Executives of an aquatics company will review whether the firm was justified in firing a Hallandale Beach lifeguard earlier this week for leaving his zone to help rescue a nearby swimmer.
The dismissal prompted a media firestorm and an outpouring of public support for the guard, 21-year-old Tomas Lopez of Davie.
Jeff Ellis Management, the Orlando-area company under contract with Hallandale Beach since 2003 to provide lifeguards at two public beaches, announced Wednesday that it would immediately interview the managers and workers involved in the incident to determine whether any safety protocols were violated.
"If we find our actions on the part of the leadership team were inappropriate, we will rectify it based upon the information that comes forward," the firm's owner, Jeff Ellis, said in a phone interview from Houston, where he was traveling.
Lopez was fired Monday after he was summoned to help a man who had been struggling in the water south of his station. The man had been at an "unprotected" stretch of the beach, where visitors are warned to swim at their own risk, city officials said.
Compelled to help, Lopez said he ran a considerable distance, arriving to find that several witnesses had pulled the man, a 21-year-old from Estonia, out of the ocean. Lopez and an off-duty nurse tended to the victim until paramedics arrived. The victim was reported in good condition Wednesday at Aventura Hospital.
Company officials said the rescue occurred about 1,500 feet south of the firm's boundaries.
Two other lifeguards quit in protest of Lopez's firing.
City Manager Renee Crichton issued a statement Wednesday saying, "We do not have all the facts in this case. We take the safety of all visitors to our beaches very seriously. Whether they are in a protected area or unprotected area, we believe aid must be rendered."
The city said it would await the results of the company's inquiry, which Ellis said should be complete by Friday.
City spokesman Peter Dobens said the agreement for the protected areas of the beach calls for four lifeguards and one supervisor to be on duty simultaneously, per shift.
"The city doesn't provide lifeguards in front of the condominiums up and down the beach," Dobens said. Emergency service personnel, however, respond whenever summoned.
While he does not doubt that Lopez was "good intentioned," Ellis said the company's first responsibility is to ensure that service for its zone is not disrupted, potentially endangering beachgoers there and opening up the company to liability issues.
"We are not a fire-rescue operation. We are strictly a lifeguard organization," he said. "We limit what we do to the protected swimming zones that we've agreed to service."
Staff writer Tonya Alanez contributed to this report.
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