South Florida lifeguard fired after saving man

Hallandale Beach lifeguard left assigned post

By Jacey Birch - Anchor/Animal Advocate

HALLANDALE BEACH, Fla. - Three lifeguards were fired and six others gave notice that they were quitting after a rescue on Monday afternoon.  

Hallandale Beach was packed with people enjoying the sun, the sand, and the water. But the lifeguards were on a skeleton staff.

Lifeguard Tomas Lopez ran off of his stand and past his guard area to reach a drowning man.

"I started running. I didn't see the person at first," said Lopez.

He was able to reach the unidentified man, carry him to safety away from the water, and conduct rescue techniques until EMTs reached the beach.  

But just minutes after he filed his rescue paperwork, Lopez was fired on the spot. He was told it was because he left his zone and saved someone in a part of the beach his company is not paid to protect.

"While he was off, we had two other guards watching his zone so the beach was secure," said Szilard Janko, another lifeguard.

Janko quit his job in solidarity, standing by his colleague's side for saving a man's life.

"I think we should be able to rescue anybody, anywhere," he said.

Both Lopez and Janko are 21 years old and have been lifeguards for less than a year. They said they knew the rules but could not imagine leaving someone to drown when their job is to save lives.

The now-unemployed lifeguards said Monday's incident was the first time they were forced to decide between following the rule about the assigned zones or attempting to save a life.

"I'm not going to put my job over helping someone. I'm going to do what I felt was right and I did," said Lopez.

The firings continued after Monday's rescue. Szilard Janko's 16-year-old brother Zoard Janko was also let go.

"If I see anyone drowning, regardless of where they are, I'm going to save them because I'm a lifeguard and, even as a human, I'm going to save someone if I see they need help, and they told me I was fired," said Zoard Janko.

Zoard Janko said he was fired after a manager asked if he'd leave his assigned zone to help someone in an unprotected area and he told his boss that he would.

Jeff Ellis Associates, an Orlando-based company, is contracted by the city and paid to man the beaches, but only in the most populated spots.  

When asked what the lifeguards are supposed to do when someone is drowning outside the guarded zones, the men explained they were told to call 911.

Former Vice Mayor of Hallandale Beach Bill Julian was outraged over what is happening on the beaches in his city.

"This young man is a hero. He should not be fired," said Julian.

Julian was in office when the contract bid was given to Jeff Ellis and Associates, and he is not happy with how they are overseeing the beach rescues.

"Looking back at the contract we approved, as a former vice mayor, as a cost-saving measure, I think now is the time not to renew and get our guys back under our control," he said.

The company has been guarding certain spots of Hallandale Beach since 2003, but that contract expires this year. As of now, seven lifeguards are no longer patrolling Hallandale Beach, all because a man's life was saved outside of an assigned area.

"I understand it's wrong not to leave someone there, and they are grown-ups and they don't understand it," said Zoard Janko.

Since his story has made international headlines, Lopez said he has received hundreds of friend requests from strangers on his Facebook page, as well as people expressing interest in hiring him.

When Local 10 asked if Lopez would want his job back, he said, "Honestly, no, not with the company. Just after everything that's happened, it's nothing, like, really harsh or anything. It's not, like, really bitter feelings, it's just after everything that's happened, I'd rather not have the job anymore with the company."

On Thursday afternoon, the owner of the company offered all the lifeguards their jobs back. Lopez and four of the lifeguards who quit refused.

Click here to read the statement issued by Hallandale Beach about the incident.

Watch Local 10 and refresh Local10.com for updates on this story.

Copyright 2012 by Post Newsweek. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.