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CARTER: Privatized approach to lifeguarding: Let 'em drown

Privatization of a public safety task such as beach lifeguard should not mean employees must leave behind their humanity when they clock into work.

But it does mean exactly that if you work for Jeff Ellis Management, the Orlando-area aquatics company that has a contract to provide lifeguard services for Hallandale Beach, Fla., a small coastal town just north of Miami.

The company promptly fired Tomas Lopez after the 21-year lifeguard ran to the rescue Monday of a swimmer in distress. The problem: the swimmer had the misfortune of being about 1,500 feet outside the zone for which Ellis Management was contracted to safeguard.

The swimmer had been at an “unprotected” stretch of the beach, where visitors are warned to swim at their own risk, Hallandale Beach officials said.

Compelled to help, Lopez said he ran a considerable distance, arriving to find that several witnesses had pulled the man, a 21-year-old from Estonia, out of the ocean. Lopez and an off-duty nurse tended to the victim until paramedics arrived, the South Florida Sun-Sentinel newspaper reported Thursday. The victim was reported in good condition Wednesday at Aventura Hospital.

Two other lifeguards quit in protest of Lopez’s firing.

Executives of the aquatics company will review whether the firm was justified in the firing. But for now they are insisting that corporate and contractual priorities must over-ride the human instinct of Lopez to help fellow man.

Jeff Ellis, company owner, says the public is wrong to assume just because you are in distress its employees should come to your rescue. We are not the fire department, for goodness sakes, Ellis told the Sun-Sentinel.

“We are strictly a lifeguard organization,” he said.

Not so fast. Seems that to be a lifeguard organization you have to actually guard life, like the lifeguard you fired did.



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