Lifeguard fired for rescue outside designated area



OCOEE, Fla. - A lifeguard's decision to pull a drowning man from the ocean has cost him his job, and the company at the heart of the controversy over the rescue defended its actions Wednesday night. The company, Jeff Ellis and Associates, is headquartered within a gated community in Ocoee.

WFTV tried to talk to the owner, Jeff Ellis, but he did not answer the door.

Ellis' company is responsible for hiring lifeguards at Hallandale Beach in Broward County, but some people want the city to take away the its $334,000 contract with the company.

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

One lifeguard told WFTV why Lopez was fired.

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

Lopez said he jumped into action.

"So I started running," Lopez said. "I didn't see the person at first. I carried him in as fast as possible."

Lopez saved a life but lost his job because he passed the point where the company said the lifeguards cannot go, even to save lives.

Although Ellis would not talk to WFTV, his company issued a statement saying: "We have liability issues and can't go out of the protected area."

Since Lopez was fired, four other lifeguards decided to quit in support of Lopez.

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

Two others lifeguards said they were fired for the same reason.

"If I see anyone drowning, regardless of where they are, I'm going to save them because I'm a lifeguard," lifeguard Zorad Janko said. "And they told me I was fired."

Hallandale Beach's former vice mayor said he asked for the city to look into not renewing the $334,000 contract with Ellis' company.