(NEW YORK) — A Florida lifeguard has been booted from his lifeguard chair for running to save a man who was floundering in the surf.
Tomas Lopez, 21, was fired by his supervisor for vacating his lifeguarding zone to save a man drowning in an unprotected area of the beach in Hallandale Beach, Fla., on Monday, reports the Sun Sentinel.
Lopez’ employer is not paid to patrol the zone where the man had been in trouble.
According to the Sun Sentinel, Lopez was approached by a beachgoer who pointed out a man struggling in the water nearly 1,500 feet south of his post.
Instinctively, he ran down the beach to save him. By the time Lopez got to him, he had been pulled to shore by fellow beachgoers.
Following his rescue attempt, Lopez was let go for leaving the area he was supposed to be covering.
Jeff Ellis and Associates, a private aquatic safety contractor, is hired by the city to patrol the beaches. The company is also in charge of hiring and training the city’s lifeguards.
Susan Ellis, spokeswoman for Jeff Ellis and Associates, told the Sun Sentinel that Lopez broke company rules when he left his zone, and cited “liability issues” that may have occurred as a result of Lopez leaving his designated area.
Ellis could not be reached for further comment.
Some of Lopez’s friends rallied for him on his Facebook page where he had posted the Sun Sentinel’s article.
“thats messed up but im proud of you for standing up like that and doing whats right. Tomas Lopez = Hero!!” one commenter wrote.
Tom Gill, spokesman for the United States Lifesaving Association, said Lopez’s firing came across as a little harsh.
“It seems unfortunate that a guard would do what he’s trained to do and be fired for it,” he said.
Gill said that the boundaries set by Jeff Ellis and Associates were most likely set by the city of Hallandale Beach in a private contract.
“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,” he said.
USLA is recognized as the authority on open water lifesaving by the Red Cross, and certifies agencies and associations around the country based on their training.
Gill said Jeff Ellis and Associates has not applied for certification with USLA, and so he could not speak on the company’s regulations or training.
“As far as being fired for going outside the zone, I couldn’t tell you how they could make that justification,” he said.
Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio
Jennifer Graham, Deseret News
Stephen Collinson, CNN
Kathryn Vasel, CNN
Aaron Smith and Evan Perez, CNM