07/05/2012 at 07:00 AM EDT
It was what he was trained to do – save a life. But instead of earning praise from his employer, Tomas Lopez got a pink slip.
"It was the moral thing to do. I would never pick a job over my morals," Lopez, 21, told South Florida's Sun-Sentinel
after he went outside his beach's protected area to rescue a drowning man on Monday – and was later fired for doing so.
"I didn't think about it at all," Lopez said. "Someone needed my help. I wasn't going to say no."
After tending to the man, who was taken to hospital with water in his lungs, Lopez filled out an incident report, and was fired for leaving the protected area of the beach – ostensibly because of liability issues, as swimmers there could have gotten into trouble.
"They didn't tell me in a bad way. It was more like they were sorry, but rules are rules," said Lopez. "I couldn't believe what was happening."
Other lifeguards, however, reportedly watched the protected area while Lopez was down the beach. And the incident has now prompted a review
of whether the lifeguard company, Jeff Ellis Management, was justified in firing Lopez.
"If we find our actions on the part of the leadership team were inappropriate, we will rectify it based upon the information that comes forward," said company owner Jeff Ellis.