South Florida lifeguard fired after saving life

Hallandale Beach lifeguard left assigned post


HALLANDALE BEACH, Fla. – It's the Fourth of July holiday, and Hallandale Beach was packed with people enjoying the sun, the sand, and the water.

But the lifeguards were on a skeleton staff. WPLG-TV in Miami spoke with three lifeguards who were fired this week and four others who gave notice that they were quitting after a rescue took place on Monday afternoon.  

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

Tomas Lopez was the guard who ran off of his stand and past his guard area to reach the man in need.

"So I started running. I didn't see the person at first," said Lopez.

He was able to reach the unidentified man, carry him to safety away from the water, and conduct rescue techniques until EMTs reached the beach.  

But just minutes after he filed his rescue paperwork, Lopez was fired on the spot.

Lopez was told he was fired because he left his zone and saved someone outside the buoys in a part of the beach his company is not paid to protect.

"So while he was off, we had two other guards watching his zone so the beach was secure," said Szilard Janko, another lifeguard.

Janko quit his job in solidarity, standing by his colleague's side for saving a man's life.

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

Both Lopez and Janko are 21 years old and have been lifeguards for less than a year. They said they knew the rules but could not imagine leaving someone to drown when their job is to save lives.

The now unemployed lifeguards said Monday's incident was the first time they were forced to decide between following the rule about the assigned zones or attempting to save a life.

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

The firings continued after Monday's rescue. Szilard Janko's 16-year-old brother Zoard Janko was also let go.

"If I see anyone drowning, regardless of where they are, I'm going to save them because I'm a lifeguard and, even as a human, I'm going to save someone if I see they need help, and they told me I was fired," said Zoard Janko.

Zoard Janko said he was fired after a manager asked if he'd leave his assigned zone to help someone in an unprotected area and he told his boss that he would.

Jeff Ellis Associates, an Orlando-based company, is contracted by the city and paid to man the beaches, but only in the most populated spots.  

When asked what the lifeguards are supposed to do when someone is drowning outside the guarded zones, the men explained they were told to call 911.

Former Vice Mayor of Hallandale Beach Bill Julian was outraged over what is happening on the beaches in his city.

"This young man is a hero. He should not be fired," said Julian.

Julian was in office when the contract bid was given to Jeff Ellis and Associates, and he is not happy with how they are overseeing the beach rescues.

"Looking back at the contract we approved, as a former vice mayor, as a cost-saving measure, I think now is the time not to renew and get our guys back under our control," he said.

The company has been guarding certain spots of Hallandale Beach since 2003, but that contract expires this year. As of now, seven lifeguards are no longer patrolling Hallandale Beach, all because a man's life was saved outside of an assigned area.

"I understand it's wrong not to leave someone there, and they are grown-ups and they don't understand it," said Zoard Janko.

Local Ten tried to contact the company in charge but they were closed for the Fourth of July holiday.

Click here to read the statement issued by Hallandale Beach about the incident.