South Florida lifeguard fired for saving man offered job back

Tomas Lopez, co-workers won't take job back

HALLANDALE BEACH, Fla. - The Florida lifeguard who was fired after leaving his post to help rescue a swimmer outside his zone will be offered his job back.

WPLG-TV reports on Thursday afternoon, the owner of the company offered all the lifeguards their jobs back after the Monday incident. Tomas Lopez and four of the lifeguards who quit refused.

Jeff Ellis, head of a company that provides lifeguards at Hallandale Beach, said Lopez was fired too quickly, according to the Associated Press.

Ellis says no area of the beach his company patrols was left unattended while Lopez went to assist a swimmer in distress.

Lopez was fired shortly after on grounds he'd broken a company rule by leaving his section of the beach.

"The person was drowning outside our buoy lines. It's an unguarded zone," said Szilard Janko.

Lopez was the guard who ran off of his stand and past his guard area to reach the man in need.

"So 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.

Lopez was told he was fired because he left his zone and saved someone outside the buoys in a part of the beach his company is not paid to protect.

"So while he was off, we had two other guards watching his zone so the beach was secure," said Janko.

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.

They 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.

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," Julian told WPLG-TV.

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.

READ: Hallandale Beach's statement

Copyright 2012 by The Associated Press contributed to this report. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.