A lifeguard is assigned to watch a given area of beach. A swimmer in an area that is uncovered by a lifeguard a quarter of a mile away gets in trouble, and citizens report it to the lifeguard, who then leaves his assigned area to try and save the swimmer. He is fired for leaving his area uncovered.

I can understand why they fired him. The lifeguard company cannot allow this to happen. Unfortunately, policy is made
because of legal liability. The company has to look out for what it is
contracted to do. The company and its employees have a duty to act
within their area, a duty that they cannot fulfill if their lifeguards are off elsewhere. It may suck, it may not make sense, but it is the way that the law works.

The lifeguard left the area where he had a duty to act in
order to go to an area where he did not, thus leaving him and his
company open to legal liability. The fact that nothing happened in his assigned area while he was gone doesn’t
change this. 

If the company he works for doesn’t discipline him for this, then the precedent is set: other lifeguards can leave their area to do whatever, and then claim that they left to rescue someone, and the company will not be able to discipline them in the future.

This is freelancing, pure and simple. I know this sounds harsh, but the guy who was drowning decided to swim in an area that is not covered by lifeguards, thereby assuming the risk that he was swimming on an uncovered beach.

This reminds me of the people who live in an area that doesn’t have a public fire department, and refuse to pay the membership fees of the fire department who does cover their area, but then get upset when the fire department that they consciously avoid paying for refuses to provide service.

This lifeguard knew the rules, he was told that they couldn’t go beyond a certain limit, and would be disciplined if he did. He broke those rules, and was fired. He knew what he was doing, and figured that the rules didn’t apply to him.

Of course people in this situation are quick to say that you should, as a rescuer, be willing to sacrifice your job to rescue someone. To those people, I ask you this:
On 9/11, did you quit your job to rush to ground zero and help out?
During hurricane Katrina, did you quit your job to rush to New Orleans?
Why are you sitting here reading this? You should be out west, saving people from the wildfires there.

Or is it easier to bitch on the internet about what others should do, but not actually do it yourself?
There are limits to what we can do. We can’t go off and try to save the world. All we can do is take care of our piece of it.

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Anonymous · July 6, 2012 at 3:12 pm

While I don't disagree with you, and I have struggled with this, because I would probably have done what the lifeguard did, and I understand what the company did. One of the reports that I saw said that the company was pretty good with the way they handled it. Something along the lines of "unfortunately, rules are rules."

Here is my question to you for you to think back to your FD days (you miss it, don't you).. You show up to a house fire as the officer on the first unit. You assign your crew to pull a line and advance it to the front door for a fire attack. You are doing your 360* of the house. You go around back and see through the sliding door someone unconscious on the couch. In my department (and I don't know about your former department, though I work very close to where I believe you used to work), any member is not allowed to enter the structure without a partner, under any circumstance. If you reasonably believed that you could perform the rescue, would you?

My thoughts on the subject, and I have never been put into the situation, and hope to never be, is that my conscious would not allow me to leave the victim there, if I believed that I could reasonably perform the rescue and deal with whatever form of punishment the department decided to provide me, because in my mind, I know that I did the right thing. If I believed that it would not be possible for me to perform the rescue, or that there was an very high probability of myself being hurt or killed it would be a different situation.

Aaron C. de Bruyn · July 6, 2012 at 4:09 pm

I agree with the anonymous commenter.

The example you provide is a bit far-fetched. This isn't a situation where the lifeguard had to travel across three states, take two busses and a long taxi ride to save someone. It happened within a few hundred feet.

While I don't blame the company for firing him for 'rules are rules', I would expect there are plenty of companies out there that would love the PR of hiring this good Samaritan if not just the decency.

To respond to anonymous directly: I definitely would go in. Not only would I consider that the definition of 'hero', but it's also the right thing to do. The moment some arbitrary rule gets in the way of saving a life, it needs to be tossed out the window.

Anonymous · July 7, 2012 at 3:45 am

Aaron, I think that the rule has a place, because it is a general rule that you can't enter a structure without a partner. If we were to modify the rule to add a bunch of if's it would make things too hard. If there is someone in danger.. If this.. If that… It gets to be too much and too complicated.. In my opinion, it is a good general rule that you can't enter a structure without a partner, but, I'm more than willing to violate that rule to save someones life. This is why I actually prefer SOG's instead of SOP's. An SOG gives me some ability to vary as it is just a guideline.

Divemedic · July 7, 2012 at 1:42 pm

People always claim that "a life is more important than a job" when it is an abstract statement. Talk is cheap, and actions speak louder than words. If these things are so important, then why haven't you quit your job and headed out west to fight the fires there?
Why didn't you quit your job to join the Haiti earthquake rescue?
Did you leave your job to go to the Katrina disaster area?
No? Then I guess your job IS more important than saving lives.

Divemedic · July 7, 2012 at 1:47 pm

BTW- I say that because I used to be a volunteer firefighter. I got fired from two different jobs because of it.
I got fired from one job at a plastic factory in 1998, because killer tornadoes had ripped through the area, I was searching for survivors, and called in sick.

Another got me fired in 1994, when my boss' daughter's house caught fire and burned to the ground. The boss and his family were angry because they thought the fire department should have saved the house, so I got fired.

Being a martyr wears thin after a while.

Ruth · July 8, 2012 at 9:17 am

divemedic – although I hear what you are saying, as human beings, most of us can't know that someone is in need a very short distance away and give assistance. I would do what that life guard did without even giving it a second thought, job be damned.
I understand that martyrdom grows thin after a while, but still, I wouldn't be able to act differently and live with myself.

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