Jeff Ellis Management has publically apologized for the firing of a Florida lifeguard earlier this month, which made national headlines and spurred worldwide dialogue

Tomas Lopez, 21, was dismissed for vacating his lifeguarding zone to save a man drowning in an unguarded area of the beach in Hallandale Beach, Fla. According to reports, Lopez made the rescue after he was approached by a beachgoer who pointed out a man struggling in the water nearly 1,500 feet south of his post.

Hallandale Beach has a contract with Jeff Ellis Management, which provides facility management services. Lopez and the other guards were not hired to watch the area of the beach where the incident occurred. He says he acted knowing that he was going against the rules by leaving his area.

“… Surf beaches are normally managed by lifeguards who are public safety professionals. They don’t ignore people in distress,” noted Chris Brewster, president of the U.S. Lifesaving Association.

JEM owner Jeff Ellis, who also founded Jeff Ellis & Associates, based in Ocoee, Fla., apologized to Lopez, both in a phone call and publically, in a statement posted on the company’s Website. He is currently overseeing an investigation of the incident and a review of policies. The company has offered to rehire Lopez and two other guards who were fired for standing by him, but so far Lopez has declined the offer. He has accepted the key to the city of Hallandale Beach.

Six guards quit over the episode, and the story was picked up in both national and international media, including CNN, the Huffington Post and Fox and Friends. There’s also been much discussion via social media, including AI Connect and the AI Linkedin Group.

“I have read three different news stories about this incident … and in each of them it is mentioned that Lopez secured backup at his beach before venturing out to make the save,” said AI Connect member Nick Bacon, in response to a post. “The job title is Lifeguard and as such he had a duty to act.”

The city’s contract with JEM officially expires September 30, 2012, but following the incident, JEM publically announced that it will not seek a continued relationship.

JEM has offered to move the Hallandale Aquatic Operations lifeguard staff to assignments at other Ellis-managed facilities in Florida.

“I take full responsibility for how this situation was handled by our company,” Ellis was quoted, in a separate statement also posted on the company’s Website. “I can’t change what happened, but when we took this job I promised the city full accountability. I am taking this action to fulfill my promise.”