The lifeguard fired for leaving his designated zone while rescuing a drowning man received thanks from the victim and was given the key to the city of Hallandale Beach by the mayor Monday. 19-year-old Maksim Samartsev said the lifeguard saved his life.
Tomas Lopez was honored at a ceremony at city hall, where he met 19-year-old victim Maksim Samartsev for the first time since the rescue.
"He saved my life," said Samartsev, who was visiting his father from Estonia when the rescue happened on July 2.
Lopez, 21, ran and left his lifeguard zone, breaking company policy, to try and help Samartsev. By the time Lopez got to him, beachgoers had managed to pull him out of the water. Lopez and a nurse tended to Samartsev, who was later rushed to Aventura Hospital in intensive care. He was discharged from the hospital on Thursday.
Samartsev's father, Ivan called Lopez's actions "a miracle."
"All I did was what I was supposed to do," said Lopez, who added that he doesn't think he deserves a key to the city.
Jeff Ellis Management, who provides lifeguards for the city of Hallandale Beach, had fired Lopez at first, but reviewed the incident and offered him his job back. Lopez declined.
City commissioner Keith London called the incident "an accident waiting to happen" and says the city needs to re-examine its contract with Jeff Ellis Management.