Company that fired lifeguard for saving drowning man resigns contract

Tomas Lopez declined to accept job back

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ORLANDO, Fla. - The company that fired a lifeguard earlier this month for leaving his assigned coverage zone to rescue a drowning man has announced it will no longer provide lifeguard service for the city of Hallandale Beach, effective when the company's contract with the city expires at the end of September.

"I want to apologize to the Mayor, City Commission and citizens of Hallandale Beach for the regrettable incident surrounding the recent termination of our lifeguard employee, Tomas Lopez," Jeff Ellis, president of Jeff Ellis Management, wrote in a letter to City Manager Renee Crichton.

The company has provided lifeguard services to the city's oceanfront and swimming pools since 2003, Local 6 News partner Florida Today reported.

"During their nine-year relationship, Ellis lifeguards have achieved a 'zero' drowning record and saved Hallandale taxpayers over $3,600,000," Ellis wrote.

Lopez, 21, ran out to save Maksim Samartsev, who needed help July 2 in an unprotected area of Hallandale Beach, about 1,500 feet away from the public beach area that Lopez patrolled.

Beachgoers had alerted Lopez to Samartsey. By the time he got there, bystanders had pulled the man to shore. Lopez and an off-duty nurse stayed with the man until paramedics arrived. While Samartsey survived, Lopez's job didn't.

The company that handles lifeguard services for the Broward County city has a strict policy regarding lifeguards leaving their assigned areas. The company later acknowledged they fired Lopez too hastily, and that his post was never left unattended.

Ellis had offered Lopez his job back, but Lopez declined. The company also offered to rehire two other lifeguards fired for supporting Lopez's actions, and four others who resigned in protest.

"I take full responsibility for how this situation was handled by our company," Ellis wrote in the letter to the city. "I can't change what happened, but when we took this job I promised the city full accountability. I am taking this action to fulfill my promise."

Each of Brevard's 24 lifeguard towers covers a 200-yard stretch of beach. Lifeguards can leave that coverage area for rescues if another lifeguard stays behind to man the tower and if they first call their supervisors who roam six large zones of county beach on all-terrain vehicles.

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