Fla. Contractor That Fired Lifeguard For Saving Man Outside Zone Backs Down

PHOTO: Tomas Lopez was fired from his job as a lifeguard after saving a drowning man outside of the zone his company was hired to watch.
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The Hallandale Beach, Fla., lifeguard who got fired after saving a man outside his coverage zone was offered his job back, said the private contractor that employed him.

Jeff Ellis, the president of Jeff Ellis Management, told ABC News he had offered Tomas Lopez, 21, his job back today, but he declined.

Ellis was able to confirm that Lopez's post was not left unattended when he ran out to help save a swimmer in an unprotected area of the beach, and so he should not have been let go.

Lopez told ABC News earlier this morning that he would not go back to work.

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

Lopez said he had only been working as a lifeguard for four months at Hallandale Beach prior to being fired. He drove about 24 miles from his home in Davie, Fla., to Hallandale Beach, and worked nearly five days a week almost every week since he was hired, he said.

This is the second rescue Lopez performed as a lifeguard.

Ellis told ABC News he would be conducting a full investigation into the firing of Lopez, who attempted to save a drowning man who was 1,500 feet away from the area of the public beach that the contractor patrols. Lifeguards had strict instructions not to venture outside the patrol zone.

Six other Hallandale lifeguards also declined to return to work after they told supervisors who work for the contractor that they too would have rescued the man, Ellis said, but it was his intention to offer anyone their job back who would like it.

Ellis said the lifegaurds were contacted by the company's human resources department.

Lopez said earlier today that no one from Jeff Ellis Management has contacted him yet regarding the investigation.

"There was someone who was fired before me for saying he wouldn't obey the rule," said Lopez, of Jeff Ellis Management's policy of only patrolling zones it's paid to cover. "Now that they're in trouble, they want to fix it."

Ellis said he was made aware of the incident on Tuesday afternoon. He was not in the Fort Lauderdale area at the time.

Hallandale Beach spokesperson Peter Dobens said the city asked Jeff Ellis Management to conduct the investigation to get an account of what happened.

City Manager Renee Crichton said, "We do not have all the facts in this case. We take the safety to all visitors to our beaches very seriously. Whether they are in a protected area or unprotected area, we believe aid must be rendered."

Dobens said Jeff Ellis Management has been employed by the city since 2003.

The city renewed the company's contract in 2009, said Dobens. It will expire 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.

Dobens said Hallandale Beach pays around $339,000 a year to Jeff Ellis Management to cover the city's two beaches and its municipal pool.

"Right now [Elllis] is doing the investigation, and we're hoping to get results fairly soon to examine what happened," Dobens said. "Nothing like this has happened before in Hallandale Beach."

With reporting by MATT GUTMAN and KATIE MOISSE and CANDACE SMITH.

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