Living up to the name 'lifeguard'

Published July 6, 2012

Lifeguards, like other first responders, are trained to react to life-threatening situations within a moment's notice rather than consult a corporate handbook on rules and regulations. So when Tomas Lopez, a 21-year-old lifeguard on duty at Hallandale Beach, saw a swimmer in distress he raced 1,500 feet to the man's aid. For doing his job, Lopez was fired by a private contractor because he went beyond the perimeter of his assigned lifeguard zone. Fortunately officials in Tampa, Clearwater and Pinellas County understand the folly of outsourcing public safety; they adopted a more common-sense approach in permitting the area's lifeguards to use their training and best judgment in responding to an emergency.

Jeff Ellis Management properly endured a week of scorn after its dismissal of Lopez for its insistence on putting a senseless policy ahead of public safety. Predictably, the company wound up apologizing and offering Lopez his job back, but he declined. Fortunately, Tampa Bay officials trust lifeguards to protect the public and exercise sound instincts.

So who is safer, Hallandale Beach visitors who are as much at risk from bureaucracy as rip currents, or Tampa Bay beachgoers protected by skilled lifeguards who are also respected for their initiative?