Lifeguard Fired For Leaving His Post To Rescue Someone Outside His Territory

It’s understandable why leaving your assigned post could cause you problems on your job. But what if it’s your duty to protect swimmers from drowning, and someone in need of help just happens to be outside your designated territory? One Florida lifeguard didn’t need to think twice, running from his area to save a swimmer and losing his job in the process.

According to Florida’s Sun Sentinel, the problem with the lifeguard’s dash to rescue a swimmer is because the company he works for is a private lifeguarding company, and the area where the swimmer was in trouble is one where people are told they are swimming at their own risk. Attempting to save someone outside that territory is a liability issue, said the company.

“We have liability issues and can’t go out of the protected area,” said a supervisor. “What he did was his own decision. He knew the company rules and did what he thought he needed to do.”

Indeed, the lifeguard told the paper he was not thinking about a company being sued.

“I ran out to do the job I was trained to do,” said the 21-year-old man. “I didn’t think about it at all.”

He says he was sitting at his post when someone rushed over to his stand and asked for help. He saw a man struggling in the water about 1,500 south of his post, after swimming in an “unprotected” stretch of beach.

“It was a long run, but someone needed my help. I wasn’t going to say no,” he said. Other witnesses had pulled the man out of the water by the time he arrived, and he and an off-duty nurse attended to him until paramedics arrived.

The lifeguard filed an incident report, and he was subsequently fired.

“They didn’t tell me in a bad way. It was more like they were sorry, but rules are rules,” the lifeguard said. “I couldn’t believe what was happening.”

After he was fired, many of his coworkers stood in solidarity and quit alongside the fired lifeguard to show their support for him. His story has made headlines, causing the company to change its tune. The lifeguard says he’s been offered his job back, but he doesn’t want it.

“It’s another chapter in my life closed and I am just going to continue to get my schooling finished and get on with my career,” he told CNN.

The head of the company where he worked said l he didn’t approve of the decision to fire the man.

“Clearly, he should not have been terminated for what had occurred,”he said. “I know that he has tried to do the right thing.”

Hallandale Beach lifeguard fired after participating in beach rescue [Sun Sentinel]

Florida lifeguard says he’s been offered his job back [CNN]

 

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  1. Anathema777 says:

    I thought all of the lifeguards on duty handled this well. The one who performed the rescue alerted his fellow lifeguards to what was going on so that his section of the beach would not be left unguarded.

    • FatLynn says:

      When lifeguarding, it’s SOP that every lifeguard on duty knows what to cover if someone goes in for a rescue or has to help an injured person, etc. Usually, you have three people covering an area that could be covered by two, and then the other two shift their scanning patterns as needed.

      • Anathema777 says:

        Right, I understand that. I just like seeing that training go into action.

      • Murph1908 says:

        Right. I was a lifeguard for several years.

        You also had “down’ guards…those on other duties (in the shade for a certain amount of time as required). When another guard goes in, these guards would come out to assist the vacated area.

        I once had a down guard beat me to a rescue, even. I had to go through the sand and water on a diagonal, and he had a pier and a straight run. He heard my alert whistle, saw where I was going, sprinted down the pier, and jumped in right at the victim.

        It might look like a slacker job, but good guards are always on alert, and will notice a vacated area and help watch it.

  2. 180CS says:

    “Tried to do the right thing”
    Tried? I’m happy that the other lifeguards stood by this one, and that the company offered him his job back, but obviously if it hadn’t been such a big issue, the president wouldn’t have said “tried to do the right thing.”

    Tried….nope, sorry, he DID do the right thing. Try again.

  3. Costner says:

    “He saw a man struggling in the water about 1,500 south of his post”

    Well there is your problem. He was 1500 miles away from his job, so I would have fired him too!

    What’s that… you mean it was only 1500 meters? Well that is still almost a mile away – he should still be fired?

    Oh we don’t use the metric system so it must be 1500 yards? Oh… you think it was feet? Maybe inches? Centimeters? Hands? It was near water, so perhaps 1500 fathoms? Nautical miles?

    Oh wait… furlongs! It most definitely must be 1500 furlongs!

    What were we talking about again??

    • Anathema777 says:

      I know you’re being sarcastic, but for the record, it was 1,500 feet.

      • Costner says:

        Yea I read that in the original article yesterday. Just not sure how it was cut from the version posted here.

        • 401k says:

          “Just not sure how it was cut from the version posted here.”

          Cause not everyone is perfect like you?

          • Costner says:

            Yes that is what I was getting at… I was suggesting that I was perfect. /s

            Is it really too much to ask for these articles to be proofread before posting them? Better yet, is it too much to ask that they update them when an error is found? I’d like to think if I was a professional writer, I wouldn’t just omit random words from the original source article…. but hey – what do I know.

            • GitEmSteveDaveHatesChange says:

              Yes, it is. After too many proofreaders suffered mental breakdowns during the “Phil Period”, they ceased the habit.

        • kc2idf says:

          I’m thinking that during the cuttery-pastery process, the silly little tick mark that we who have foolishly failed to adopt the metric system use to designate feet, got deleted.

          (NOT sarcastic)

  4. dpeters11 says:

    It was 1500 feet. He did the right thing. Can a lifeguard be held responsible for not assisting (or only calling 911)?

    The city that contracts with this company also agreed with him, that it doesn’t matter if it’s in the protected zone or not. If someone needs help, do it.

    • Random Lurker says:

      Yes, he can be held liable. A person who in a paid emergency-response position who is on the clock is considered to be under a “duty to act,” up to the extent of their training. (a lifeguard would not be expected to perform surgery. He WOULD be expected to perform CPR). Failure to act is grounds for negligence.

      I don’t know about the jurisdiction business as it regards lifeguards, but as an ex-ambulance driver, our coverage area had no bearing on our duty to act. If we saw an accident happen in front of us, we responded.

  5. Loias supports harsher punishments against corporations says:

    He’ll be rehired – this sort of thing has not gone over well for businesses in the past.

    • Loias supports harsher punishments against corporations says:

      Hey look, he got rehired! They he refused the job.

      • failurate says:

        Well, it sounds like the job kind of sucked. And anyway, he’s going to be too busy doing interviews, at least for the next 15 minutes.

    • j2.718ff says:

      “The lifeguard says he’s been offered his job back, but he doesn’t want it.”

      It’s hard to rehire someone who doesn’t want the job anymore.

      • LionMan says:

        But it also looks like a temp agency who will happily fire him for no reason at a later date. He realizes if he got fired for this, they’ll fire him for something else.

    • StarKillerX says:

      The sad part is that the company is simply trying to exist is the environment that lawyers, politicians and our courts have created in this country so I can’t really blame them for the rule or reacting harshly when it is broken.

      • MarkFL says:

        A more recent report says that the company fired him because he left his area uncovered — but he had already gotten someone to cover for him.

        As for liability, in many places there are good samaritan laws to protect people who do things like this — otherwise doctors would have to refuse treatment to people in emergency situations outside their normal work situations. But even though I live in Florida, I’m not sure if it applies in this case.

        • kc2idf says:

          Yeah, I had been thinking something along these lines — that this situation calls for a good samaritan law to be created, if, indeed, there isn’t already one.

      • Alex d'Indiana says:

        Thank you for being a legal expert and pulling up the relevant case law and statutes to show why the company is in the right here. The precedents you cited helped us see how the company weighed various risks and decided on this particular course of action.

        Oh, wait, upon rereading your comment, I see that you just assumed that the company was in the right based on a political ideology that requires one to believe that all business owners are perfectly honest people while peasants – sometimes working through the government – are always trying to make a quick buck by keeping productive people down. My bad.

  6. Will Print T-shirts For Food says:

    Ah, Had this discussion in the Rants And Raves section on Craigslist yesterday, since you guys didn’t leave us an open discussion post while you were gone! Don’t do that to us again, Consumerist!

  7. Nighthawke says:

    Two other lifeguards were fired and 4 others quit in sympathy from the incident. One might say that the company is a bit short-handed atm.

  8. mauispiderweb says:

    #florida

  9. Murph1908 says:

    This is another example of how our sue-happy culture is adversely affecting our country.

    I don’t support the firing, but the company HAD to. Because if someone leaves their post later and it causes a death, and they didn’t fire this guy for leaving his post, they are setting themselves up for a lawsuit. They will lose the lawsuit, because they have a ‘history’ of not enforcing the Don’t Leave your Post rule, and will be found negligent.

    A golf course by me won’t put in a lightning warning siren. Because if the siren fails, or someone doesn’t turn it on in time, causing someone to get struck, they could be sued. It’s better for the club to post signs warning you to take shelter if you see lightning, puttng the burdon on you, than try to help and give a warning. Wouldn’t it be better if BOTH the golfer AND the club try their best to keep everyone safe? Yes. But the way negligence is determined in the courts prevent this smarter scenario from happening.

    Relating it back to the original story, some beaches and pools don’t have lifeguards because of the liability if someone drowns while a guard is on duty. As a father, I’d rather have a lifeguard around to ASSIST me in keeping me, my kid and family safe. But because people will blame the lifeguards/company/city if a tradgedy occurs, and not themselves for their own family’s safety, we are losing these services.

    • Murph1908 says:

      *prevents

    • msbask v2 says:

      I just think they could have ‘officially’ reprimanded him for leaving his post andcommended him for saving someone’s life?

    • pgr says:

      So, what happens if a sign falls down? Call in the legal scumbags (as soon as they finish making their least cable TV advt)

    • dchs says:

      I think company’s take precaution and put signs up just in case. It doesn’t mean that they will put signs up and then that’s it. Humans do make mistakes, and so they put the signs up in case one of the workers doesn’t run fast enough to turn the sirens on, etc. This is extra insurance so that they reduce their risk. Businesses always try to take the least risk but doesn’t mean they don’t care.

      In the case of the life guard being fired. They had to do it. It reduces the risk of them being sued. But it doesn’t mean that the company wasn’t planning to hire him back. They had to take disciplinary action in the eyes of the law and to reduce risk even if they felt the lifeguard did the right thing. In other words, firing and rehiring the guy could be seen as a loophole around the law

  10. JJFIII says:

    The lifeguard did the right thing, the person who should be fired and billed is the moron who decides to swim at a place that says swim at your own risk, and is not a strong enough swimmer to actually swim there. This goes for the morons who decide ice fishing is best on a 36 degree day or think, hey, I don’t wan the “man” telling me where I can and can not swim.

    • The Beer Baron says:

      I say, why not eliminate Lifeguards entirely? Why worry about weak swimmers and children, or unknown natural dangers? I do believe natural selection will take care of the problem over the course of a few generations. I like the way you think, sir! Those with callous disregard for “the rules” should indeed reap the consequences of their short-sightedness, and should that mean their deaths, then bully! society is the stronger for it. Capital idea, old sport, and one worthy of publication. I would certainly buy it, and disseminate it for free. Perhaps your title could be “My Struggle Against Society’s Ideals of Coddling the Degenerate, Ignorant, and Those of Diminished Mental Capacity.”

  11. do-it-myself says:

    Only in FloriDUH.

    At least everything worked out. I wouldn’t want to work for such a petty organization anymore either.

  12. Tim says:

    To me, everyone who works in a public safety position has a responsibility to do what’s within their power and training to help people. The prime example is the Hippocratic Oath. And in general, if you’re CPR trained, you’re expected to administer it when necessary.

    So yes, if someone’s drowning, and a lifeguard and safely get to that person to help him/her, I would expect said lifeguard to do so.

  13. Crackpot says:

    The company just sent all of its lifeguards this message: “You should be more concerned with specific distances and coverage areas than with saving lives. You should consider liability before you consider safety.”

    Obviously, this is a problem. It is further compounded by the fact that, in some states, those with livesaving training are legally required to respond when they become aware of a life-threatening event, and could be sued personally if they fail to do so. (The American Red Cross puts this in some of their professional CPR certification course materials.) The company’s response is not only out of line – it might even be illegal.

    And then, with all of that said, the second linked article states that two other lifeguards were fired merely for saying they would do the same thing if faced with that situation… on the heels of the company offering Lopez his job back. So they fired Lopez for what they considered valid cause, then hired him back after he says he’d do it again, yet fired other lifeguards who said the same thing – that they’d perform similarly if faced with that situation?

    Something in the water over there stinks, and it isn’t just leftover tar balls from the BP spill.

    • scoosdad says:

      You’re right. Now imagine if the story went differently. Suppose the lifeguard followed his company’s rules completely to the letter, and the swimmer drowned.

      I’d bet in that situation this scummy company would do everything it could to place the blame on the individual lifeguard and not on its company policies. They’d spin it the other way. You can’t win. He did the right thing and should be proud of what he did. I hope the swimmer is grateful as well that the lifeguard who saved him didn’t follow policies.

      • StarKillerX says:

        Or if the company expected it’s employees to go outside the patrolled area and he did and drowned his family would be suing the company and everyone here would be bashing the company for putting the kids life at risk by making him respond outside the “safe zone.”

        The simple fact is that the company is simply trying to exist in the society lawyers, sue happy people, politicians and our courts have made and you can’t blame them for that.

    • dchs says:

      I agree that the guy did the right thing, but I am sick and tired of individuals that just disregards rules and think they are above the law. That man should no swimming out of bounds.

      I say it is all the drowning man’s fault for putting the lifeguard in his position and the company having to answer for the backlash of supposed company procedure and legal laibility issues.

      • rav3 says:

        he wasnt swimming out of bounds, just the area where the swimmer was in trouble is one where people are told they are swimming at their own risk. That does not mean disregard the rules, or being above the law, that doesn’t mean the bodyguard can’t be HUMAN and save the man.

  14. duncanblackthorne says:

    This is a feel-good story in disguise, really. That lifeguard is a hero, there can’t be anything but good things down the road for him.

  15. Kate Blue says:

    I thought it was illegal not to help someone if you can.

    • Random Lurker says:

      If an on-duty professional, yes it’s illegal. If a bystander, no, although you are protected under good samaritan laws if you have training and choose to use it.

      • JayOfAllTrades says:

        If you are a paid, trained professional (firefighter, policeman, EMT, etc) then you have the duty to help. If you are not a professional medic, your help is covered under “Good Samaritan” laws if something bad happens. But, you need consent of the person you intend to help! Unconscious victims are considered “implied consent”. Without consent, you can be sued if things go wrong. Hence, why training classes are so important. Even if someone is about to pass out on the floor, if they refuse your help, leave them alone and call 911 while you continue to keep an eye on them. Some people are just stubborn and think they are tired, when they are actually in diabetic shock, or heatstroke. But, leave it up to the pros, don’t force treatment on someone, even if you are certain they need it.

  16. IraAntelope says:

    someone drowning? Oh, well. not my territory.

  17. sp4rxx says:

    So let me get this straight –
    Guy drowns = Keep Job + Park/Beach gets sued for not having lifeguards in that area
    Guy gets saved = Lifeguard fired because saving a life is a liability.

    Though I *kind of* understand the liability part, I really don’t think they should have fired the guy. If anything, they would have ‘scolded’ him and then worked a deal with the resort/beach to expand their coverage.

    Some big wig needs to have his or her head examined.

  18. Bog says:

    So… If my license/certification requires that I do one thing and the company says another I am actually legally bound under the terms, requirements and limitations of that license, not what the company or client may want. I am obligated to take certain actions (in an emergency) when I see them, when it is possible and prudent, and if I can safely preform that task, even when not inside my imaginary box. State issued license or certification comes with requirements called “Mandatory Reporting” that trump company policy. It is likely that it that the firing for the lifeguard’s action was itself illegal.

  19. oldwiz65 says:

    Businesses are all bout saving corporate tushies, not about saving lives. This is exactly why places like Walmart are not allowed to help people being beaten in the stores (unless they are being beaten by store security people). Corporations would say loss of life is regrettable, but we were unable to do anything to save the person due to insurance considerations. The insurance protects the corporations.

  20. carlogesualdo says:

    Anyone see the news story where the city said it’s their beach and they say if the lifeguard saw someone in distress, he was obligated to help? I’m thinking the contractor (the company that hires and manages the lifeguard operations) is about to be out of a contract.

    • MarkFL says:

      Actually, the contract is due to expire soon anyway. I’m not placing high odds that this company will get a renewal.

  21. StarKillerX says:

    Everyone keeps talking about being duty bound are way off base an overlooking some basic facts..

    The duty to act comes with from their being paid to protect a specific are and does not extend beyond that designated area. So as the person was outside the designated area they are paid to protect their do not have a duty to the swimmer.

    The number one responsibility of rescue personel is to ensure their own safety such as to not risk becoming a victim themselves and putting other lives at risk. The very fact that the swimmer was outside the designated safe swimming area immediately validates this as an exceptable reason physically intervene.

    • MarkFL says:

      IANAL, but I am quite certain that the law takes precedence over job description. I’m not sure if this is the case, but if the law required the lifeguard to take action, he has to. Presumably the lifeguard is more familiar with the legal issues here than either of us.

      Second, life takes precedence over company policy OR the law. If I saw someone in danger and could reasonably save them without significant risk to myself or others, I wouldn’t hesitate to do so (assuming it wasn’t someone truly evil, like Osama bin Laden or Charles Manson or Tim Burton). If it violated company policy, too bad. If it violates the law, let ‘em find a jury to convict me. I just hope you aren’t the only person around to offer assistance in such a case.