A Florida lifeguard who was fired for leaving his post during a rescue was presented with a key to the city of Hallandale Beach Monday and was able to meet the man whose life he saved.
“It was just amazing seeing him,” Tomas Lopez told the Miami Herald. “Everything has come full circle.”
Lopez was honored at a city hall ceremony alongside Marisol Azofra, a beachgoer who helped him rescue 19-year-old Estonian tourist Maksim Samartsev. Samartsev shook Lopez’s hand and told him “thank you.”
Samartsev was swimming in an unprotected part of the beach on July 2 when he felt something pulling him underwater, his father Ivan told the newspaper.
Witnesses pulled Samartsev from the water, and Lopez and an off-duty nurse tended to him until paramedics arrived.
Samartsev spent two days in a local hospital receiving oxygen.
After the rescue, Lopez was fired on grounds he'd broken a company rule by leaving his section of the beach.
Jeff Ellis, head of the company that provides lifeguarding services at Hallandale Beach, said Lopez was fired too quickly, and that no area of the beach was left unattended while he went to assist a distressed swimmer, according to the South Florida Sun-Sentinel.
"I am of the opinion that the supervisors acted hastily," Ellis told the newspaper.
Lopez said he was offered an apology by Jeff Ellis Management and the chance to return to work, but that he would prefer to pursue other opportunities instead.
"It's not out of spite or anything like that," Lopez said. "It's not that I dislike the company. It's just I'd rather continue on in my life, finish my schooling, and get on with my life. And find another job."
Ellis also offered to rehire two other lifeguards terminated for supporting Lopez's actions, in addition to four who resigned in support of Lopez, according to a spokesman for the City of Hallandale Beach.
Hallandale Beach Mayor Renee Crichton said it has always been the city's policy that a lifeguard must respond to an emergency inside or outside of their protected area.
"The city would like to commend the actions of Mr. Lopez and the other Good Samaritans that came to the aid of our near-drowning victim," he said.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.