HALLANDALE BEACH, Fla., July 4, 2012 -- Six Florida lifeguards have lost their jobs for backing a coworker's decision to save a man struggling in the surf but outside their jurisdiction.
Tomas Lopez , 21, was fired Monday for vacating his lifeguarding zone to save a man drowning in unprotected waters 1,500 feet south of his post on Hallandale Beach, Fla.
"I knew I broke the rules," said Lopez, who ran past the buoy marking the boundary of his patrol zone to help the man. "I told the manager, I'm fired aren't I?"
Lopez said he jumped into the water and "I double underhooked him…I was worried about the guy and his health. He was blue."
Six of Lopez's coworkers said they would have done the same thing. And now, they've been fired too.
"I can listen to the rule and tell them that I wouldn't help someone who was distressed, but I knew if the incident ever came up I would go," said 19-year-old Brian Ritchie, who was fired today for saying he too would rescue someone outside his patrol zone.
"What we're basically supposed to do is watch them die," said 16-year-old Zoard Janko, who also backed Lopez's decision.
A spokesman for Jeff Ellis and Associates, the aquatic safety contractor that fired Lopez, said in a statement that "We have liability issues and can't go out of the protected area."
"Usually when the municipalities hire someone to [lifeguard], those organizations are not only taking on the responsibility of the job, but a lot of the liability," said Tom Gill, a spokesman for the United States Lifesaving Association. But, he added, "It seems unfortunate that a guard would do what he's trained to do and be fired for it."
By the time Lopez arrived on the scene, other beachgoers had dragged the unconscious man ashore and started CPR. He is recovering at Aventura Hospital, according to the Sun Sentinel.
Lopez said he didn't think about the consequences of his instinctive run "until after it was said and done."
"[We] should have jurisdiction to help someone without worrying about losing our jobs," he said.