In tight financial times, many cities save money by outsourcing municipal services such as clerical work to private companies. But there is no service more central to government and the people it serves than public safety, which should remain the responsibility of public agencies. The case of a fired lifeguard in Florida shows why.
Beachgoers brought lifeguard Tomas Lopez's attention to a man floundering in shallow water. He raced to the scene; by then, the man had been pulled to the beach but had water in his lungs. Lopez tended to him until medical help arrived.
The swimmer survived, but not Lopez's job. His employer, an aquatics company that provides lifeguard services to the city of Hallandale Beach, decided that he had quite literally crossed the line by running to an area that was not part of the company's contracted responsibility, exposing it to possible liability. Several other lifeguards quit in protest. And after a nationwide outcry, the company offered all of the guards their jobs back, saying that, in fact, Lopez hadn't left his sector of the beach unprotected.
But the lifeguards aren't going back. Let's face it, it's not as though the job was such a great gig. Lopez was paid just $8.25 an hour, a little more than Florida's minimum wage. He and his fellow guards could make close to the same money flipping burgers rather than taking responsibility for strangers' lives.