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Lifeguard Fired for Saving a Man, Internet Saves Him

Lifeguard Fired for Saving a Man

Thomas Lopez was a lifeguard. He guarded lives. If someone's life was in danger, it was his job to save that person.

Except now he's been fired for saving a life.

Because he broke the rules to do it.

Lopez was working at Hallandale Beach, a city north of Miami, for Jeff Ellis Management, an aquatics company that hires lifeguards and stations them at beaches they have contracts with. Lopez was working at his station when he was summoned to save a man who was in danger of drowning in an "unprotected" area of the beach, where city officials have said visitors swim at their own risk.

Lopez ran 500 yards to the area, only to find that several other people had pulled the man from the water. So he and an off-duty nurse tended to the man until paramedics arrived.

On Monday, Lopez was fired for leaving his station to cover an area they were not contracted to cover.

Everyone who heard the story thought the company acted reasonably. After all, rules are rules.

No, I'm kidding. There was a media crapstorm and social media lit up like the proverbial Christmas tree over the idiocy of the decision.

"People are more important than your bureaucratic rules," said the Internet. (I'm paraphrasing a bit.)

After the incident, two other lifeguards said they would have done the same thing, and were fired. So three more quit in protest.

The city of Hallandale Beach also thought lives were more important than rules. Peter Dobens, a spokesman for the city, said, while the swimmer was in an area marked, "Swim at Your Own Risk," it shouldn't matter when someone is in danger.

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

Dobens said Jeff Ellis Management has been employed by Hallandale Beach since 2003, for $339,000 per year, but that their contract runs out on September 30, 2012.

"I'm told the city was planning on going out for bids on [a new contractor] to see if we can get a better deal," Dobens said.

Something tells me they're going to get it.

After the outcry, Jeff Ellis, owner of Jeff Ellis Management, said they would review Lopez's firing and try to fix the problem. "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," he said in an interview just as the crapstorm was starting.

By "review, I assume that means management will pull their heads out of where they are currently housed, blink furiously at the bright lights, and then do the common sense thing.

Which they did, sort of.

Today, Lopez was offered his job back, which he politely declined.

"Now that [the firing] is public, they want to fix it. That's shady to me," Lopez told ABC News a few days ago. "If I never said anything, they never would have acted."

I can't blame Lopez for taking a stand. Jeff Ellis Management didn't do the right thing because it's the right thing. They did the right thing because they were shamed out of doing the wrong thing.

It was less of a "oh, should we not have done that?" and more of a "oh crap, they saw us!"

Ellis' feeble explanation was that they have limited zones for a reason: their responsibility is to provide lifeguard services for their specific zones, so they don't disrupt the service, which could potentially endanger swimmers.

"We limit what we do to the protected swimming zones that we've agreed to protect," Ellis told WPTV, an area TV station, on Monday.

In other words, Lopez was essentially fired for not following the rules about staying inside the zone.

In other words, the Jeff Ellis Management company values strict adherence to the rules more than they value a human life.

In other words, Lopez would still have his $8.25 an hour job if he had let the man die.

I can see why the Internet got upset.

It was Edmund Burke who said, "All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing."

Thomas Lopez chose not to do nothing.

Jeff Ellis Management wanted him to do nothing. By firing him for not following orders, they took that unintended first step toward evil. But thanks to the outraged roar of the general public, Jeff Ellis Management blinked first and backed down, for one simple reason:

All that is necessary for the defeat of evil is to piss off the Internet.

My book, Branding Yourself: How to Use Social Media to Invent or Reinvent Yourself (affiliate link), is available on, as well as at Barnes & Noble and Borders bookstores. I wrote it with my good friend, Kyle Lacy.

My latest book, No Bullshit Social Media: The All-Business, No-Hype Guide to Social Media Marketing is also out. You can get it from Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Books-A-Million in October, or get it for the Kindle or Nook.


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  1. I like your analysis of this incident, Erik. Jeff Ellis Management had actually set up "beachguards", rather than lifeguards. It's like saying "No one will drown on OUR section of the beach. Other swimmers are not our concern." Boo.

    1. That is because that is what they were contracted to do by the city.

      Blame the city, not the company.


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