Firms need a ‘lifeguard’ of their own

By Larry Simoneaux

“Lifeguard.”

Now there’s a job title that needs no further explanation.

The job is the title. To guard life. Simple as that.

Or so you would think.

Every now and then, though, a story with a lesson attached bubbles to the surface. This one happened more than a week ago, but it bears re-telling.

Lifeguard Tomas Lopez was on duty in Hallendale Beach, Fla., when he was told that someone needed help — that a man was drowning. Lopez worked for a private company contracted to provide lifeguard services at the beach and, unfortunately, the individual needing help was outside of Lopez’s assigned duty area. He went anyway — likely because of that “lifeguard” title.

When he reached the man, others had already pulled him from the water, but Lopez and a nurse stayed with him until medical help arrived. The man survived. That was the good news. The bad news was that Tomas Lopez was then fired for leaving his assigned area. According to the company he worked for, Lopez had broken a rule regarding his area of responsibility and could have endangered those in that area. He was supposed to have called 911 and let them handle things.

Granted, Lopez broke a rule by leaving his assigned area. Granted, the swimmer was in an area marked with signs telling visitors that they swam at their own risk. Granted, had someone gotten into trouble in his assigned area, some other someone — in our litigious world — would likely have started legal action against his company. Granted any number of things you’d like granted, but that job title keeps popping up in front of us.

“Lifeguard.”

The good things are that: (a) the man lived; (b) there was no trouble in Mr. Lopez’s area; and (c) two other lifeguards were nearby and covered his area. Those lifeguards, according to the story, were also fired.

Good grief.

The best thing is that Mr. Lopez did precisely the right thing. Someone needed the help he’d been trained to provide and he went to help. For any doubters out there, let’s see, his alternative was to, possibly, watch someone die? Yep, doing that would let you sleep soundly for the rest of your life, wouldn’t it?

The worst thing — for everyone — is that his company reacted without thinking the whole thing through. They went by the letter of their own law. Which action was — politely speaking — downright asinine.

Instead, they might have stopped. Slowed down. Reviewed the bidding. Stayed out of the “Ready. Fire. Aim.” mode.

A swimmer is in trouble. A trained employee — a “lifeguard” (there’s that word again) — goes to help. He leaves assigned area, but his area is covered by other lifeguards. The swimmer lived. There’s no trouble. What should we do now?

Start by thinking about what you would’ve done had that swimmer been a member of your family. Call 911? Yeah, I’ll bet. How about shaking the lifeguard’s hand, telling him that, even though he broke a rule, rules can’t ever cover all situations. Tell him that a human life was in danger and he helped. Shake the other two lifeguards’ hands and thank them for covering for Mr. Lopez. Figure out a way to modify your rules to allow for coverage in situations like this in the future.

But fire him? Really?

Anyway, the story hit the news, took off like a wildfire, and the company was (rightfully) pilloried.

They offered to re-hire Mr. Lopez, but he declined the offer. The company later lost the contract for their services when the city of Hallendale Beach fired them and, then, gave Mr. Lopez a key to the city.

“Act in haste. Repent in leisure.” It seems to apply here.

Someone once told me that many companies could do themselves a favor by hiring a grandmother as a part-time consultant. Someone with a bundle of grandkids. Someone who’d had her share of good times and bad and who’d come through them with spirit and good sense intact.

Someone whom, when something like this came up, they could call and tell what they were about to do. Then, after she’d slowly and unbelievingly said, “You’re gonna do what?”, they could come up with a different plan.

Off the wall, maybe, but there’s a bit of good sense to the idea.

Too late for some, though.

Larry Simoneaux lives in Edmonds. Send comments to: larrysim@comcast.net