Firing of Hallandale Beach lifeguard prompts outcry and review - South Florida Sun-Sentinel.com
Executives of an aquatics company will review whether the firm was justified in firing a Hallandale Beach lifeguard earlier this week for leaving his zone to help rescue a nearby swimmer. The dismissal prompted a media firestorm and an outpouring of public support for the guard, 21-year-old Tomas Lopez of Davie. Jeff Ellis Management, the Orlando-area company under contract with Hallandale Beach since 2003 to provide lifeguards at two public beaches, announced Wednesday that it would immediately interview the managers and workers involved in the incident to determine whether any safety protocols were violated...The city said it would await the results of the company's inquiry, which Ellis said should be complete by Friday. City spokesman Peter Dobens said the agreement for the protected areas of the beach calls for four lifeguards and one supervisor to be on duty simultaneously, per shift. "The city doesn't provide lifeguards in front of the condominiums up and down the beach," Dobens said. Emergency service personnel, however, respond whenever summoned.
For those who still don't understand the difference between public provision of local services and privatization, read this. The City of Hallandale Beach has contracted out lifeguard services (or some contractually-defined simulacrum thereof) to Jeff Ellis Management. One of their lifeguards did CPR (or otherwise rendered aid) on a man who had already been pulled from the water by others after apparently getting in trouble outside the area that the contract covers. His company fired him. The city is mumbling PR nonsense about awaiting the results of the grand investigation by the company, which translates into "Wait and see how bad the media firestorm is and act accordingly." This young man knew what needed to be done and he did it, because he is a lifeguard. Unfortunately, he works for a private company instead of a government.
This underscores a very important point about privatization. Sometimes privatization works just fine in terms of cost-effectiveness. But some services should not be privatized at all, ever, because they require split-second decisions, dedication to the welfare of others, and tasks that can't be clearly specified in advance. It seems to me that most jobs that involve risking your own life to save the lives of others are in that category. There's no reason you need to have public employees on staff to paint city hall, because contracting it out is easy and will work just fine. But how about contracting out police services to a private security company? Maybe that's fine for checking IDs at the front gate of the condo development, but when it comes to serious police work, I want a dedicated public servant between me and the real bad guys. I'd say the same thing about lifeguards. These are people who might have to dive into a rip tide to pull a drowning swimmer ashore and keep him alive until the paramedics arrive. I don't want them to be reading the fine print in their contract before they decide what to do.
And of course there is a great irony here. The city's private contractor fired Lopez for rendering aid to somebody who was drowning at a private beach in front of a condominium project, where it was "swim at your own risk." Apparently the condo association didn't pay for its own private lifeguard services. If you want the services of a Jeff Ellis lifeguard, condo dwellers, you have to pay for them. Those are the rules in privatopia.