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The Lesson of the Hero Lifeguard: Profits and Heroism Don't Necessarily Mix

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I have seen a half dozen accounts of the hero lifeguard, 21 year-old Tomas Lopez, who was fired for leaving his station to save a drowning man, and then was offered his job back.

Everyone agrees that those who fired him are nitwits.

However, the stories miss what would seem to be a central point.

The lifeguard services in Hallandale Beach, a South Florida community north of Miami where this intriguing drama has been taking place, were privatized in 2003 and are handled by a corporation, Jeff Ellis Management, which gets paid $339,000 in public funds annually to patrol two public beaches and a city pool.

The firing of lifeguard Lopez, who violated corporate policy by leaving his area to save a drowning swimmer up the beach, points to a central difference between a private corporation and public run and operated services. Public servants, as we used to call them, such as police, fire fighters, teachers and the like, are there to protect, serve and -- if needed -- save lives, while a corporation's mission is to make profits and minimize their costs and liabilities while performing a contracted service.

This beach incident goes to the heart of the problem inherent when public services are privatized. It's a timely issue given the clear difference in viewpoints about privatizing public services held by the two political parties and their presidential candidates in November.

The just-announced epilogue to the story in Florida is that hero lifeguard Lopez will be getting the key to the city, presumably at a public ceremony.

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