Menlo Park fire chief returns to work after injury


His face is familiar because you've seen Fire Chief Harold Schapelhouman on the news.

He was among the first responders to New York on 9/11, leading a national mobile rescue unit. And for 33 years he has been a firefighter and now chief at the Menlo Park Fire Protection District.

His life changed dramatically on May 11 last year when he fell off a ladder while pruning bushes in the back yard of his San Jose home.

"One of the goals I set for myself was to come back to do this job and fortunately with the board's approval and with a lot of people that have helped me along the way, I'm here," Schapelhouman said.

The accident left Schapelhouman unable to walk and with limited use of his left hand.

But he's back on the job after months of physical therapy. The toughest time was spending 66 days in the hospital.

"I had to re-learn how to brush my teeth in the hospital. Who would ever have thought you'd have to do that? How to move around, how to feed myself and then overcome, the hardest part of this injury is overcoming both the physical and the mental aspects of what will push you back every day if you let it," Schapelhouman said.

Schapelhouman also had a near-fatal setback on June 1 when a build-up of fluid caused his back sutures to rupture.

"It was serious because I could have died from that. Obviously spinal meningitis, infection, all those things are what could do you in," Schapelhouman said.

But he fought back and will now try to prove he can still function effectively as chief.

"No doubt that he set his goals to come back. That's just his natural personality," Menlo Park District Division Chief Frank Fraone said.

Schapelhouman said retirement's not for him. And he'll soon be getting a special van with hand controls to allow him to drive.

Schapelhouman will be easing back to work by working only part time for the next two weeks and then hopefully will be able to work full-time. He's taking it one day at a time.

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