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Change is coming to Hallandale Beach in the form of new lifeguards. On Monday, the city tested candidates for the job, who will no longer be employed through Jeff Ellis Management. Mayor Joy Cooper told NBC 6 the change is the result of the firing of lifeguard Tomas Lopez for leaving his zone to help rescue a struggling swimmer.
An ex-U.S. Navy diver, a former U.S. Coast Guard diver, a champion surfer and five former members of the Cuban National Water Polo team are now patrolling the waters of Hallandale Beach as lifeguards, city officials said.
The world class swimmers, who are EMT certified and are members of the Hallandale Beach Fire-Rescue Department, began work Monday.
"We feel that we're very fortunate to have individuals with a lot of experience," Hallandale Fire Safety Inspector Yvonne Feijoo said. "The Coast Guard and Navy experience is definitely an asset."
The lifeguards were chosen after a grueling interview process that included a physical test that required applicants to complete 500-meter swim within 10 minutes and a 200-meter run, followed by a timed 50-meter swim to rescue a person in distress and bring that person to shore.
Some 350 people applied for the 13 open positions, and 77 passed the physical tests, Feijoo said. She said the group chosen tested and interviewed well.
"They have really good character, they're very dedicated," she said.
Feijoo said the water polo team members weren't hired as a group but they stood out and were "exceptional swimmers."
The new hires come weeks after a lifeguard was fired by the former management company that hired the guards after he left his zone to rescue a struggling swimmer.
Lifeguard Tomas Lopez was fired by Jeff Ellis Management in July after he says he went to help a man who was struggling outside the area he was guarding. Several other lifeguards quit their jobs in protest.
Though he was later offered his job back, Lopez declined, and the city announced it wouldn't use Ellis to hire their lifeguards anymore. Hallandale officials said one Ellis employee was next on the hiring list.
Feijoo said there will be no restrictions on areas the lifeguards can or can't cover.