HALLANDALE BEACH, Fla. – It was an emotional reunion Monday between a near-drowning victim and the lifeguard who lost his job after saving the man's life.
Tomas Lopez, 21, was fired last Monday for not following the policy of the private company that employs lifeguards on Hallandale Beach and saving a swimmer in distress outside his designated area.
Maksim Samartsev, a 21-year-old tourist from Estonia says Lopez is his hero and on Monday morning, along with city leaders, police and fire rescue, said thanks to the good Samaritan.
"I want to say thanks to Tomas," said Samartsev while attending the ceremony to honor lifeguard Tomas Lopez.
"'It's great to see you.' That's the first thing I said to him," Lopez told Local 10's Ben Kennedy.
Hallandale Beach gave Lopez the key to the city, a high honor for the lifeguard who just lost his job. Marisol Azofra, a bystander who helped with the rescue, was also given a key to the city.
A nurse and another beach visitor who worked to save Samartsev disappeared into the crowd when Hallandale Beach Fire-Rescue paramedics arrived to resuscitate him.
"We'd like to honor the other two good Samaritans whose actions helped save Maksim Samartsev," said Hallandale Beach Mayor Joy Cooper. "If not for the actions of these four people and our paramedics, the results could have been tragic."
"Everyone should be rewarded with this because we were just doing what we were supposed to do. Every lifeguard should have this," Lopez said.
"It's very big, he sacrificed himself to save me," said Samartsev.
Three other lifeguards were also fired and several others quit in protest. The company did offer Lopez his job back, but he turned them down.
"I really enjoyed being a lifeguard, I really loved it," he said. "But I have to focus on the bigger picture for myself in the future.