Freak Fall Puts Menlo Park Fire Chief Harold Schapelhouman in Wheelchair

Schapelhouman admits it’s tough to rely on others when you're used to others relying on you.

By Marianne Favro
|  Thursday, Jun 13, 2013  |  Updated 1:50 PM PDT
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Harold Schapelhouman has been with the Menlo Park Fire Protection District for more than 30 years. Last month, while trimming bushes at his San Jose home he fell off of a ladder and broke his neck. Marianne Favro reports.

Harold Schapelhouman has been with the Menlo Park Fire Protection District for more than 30 years. Last month, while trimming bushes at his San Jose home he fell off of a ladder and broke his neck. Marianne Favro reports.

Fire Chief Harold Schapelhouman has been with the Menlo Park Fire Protection District for more than 30 years. Last month, while trimming bushes at his San Jose home he fell off of a ladder and broke his neck.

Now, a man who has led Bay Area search and rescue teams to some of the nation's worst disasters, is physically sidelined by a freak accident in his own backyard.

Schapelhauman is working his way back to health in a San Jose hospital. A full month after the fall and he still only has limited ability to move his hands and legs.

Schapelhouman says he has regained some feeling in his legs and can use his right hand. He says he’s hopeful with intense rehab he can eventually return to work in some capacity.

“Its kind of ironic right that I was in high risk low frequency operations and a ladder did me in,” Schapelhauman said.

He says his physical challenges have not deterred his fighting spirit.

His friend and fellow firefighter of 32 years Tim Campbell said he is not surprised to hear that.

“His physical limits in the long run won’t stop his heart and desire of what he wants to do," Campbell said.

Schapelhouman admits it’s tough to rely on others when you're used to others relying on you.

“You can’t focus on it. The bigger part you need to focus on every day is the front windshield. I don’t spend a lot of time looking in the mirror,” Schapelhouman said.

As he lead teams in swift water rescues after Hurricane Katrina or pulled a dog to safety after flooding in Yuba City, Schapelhouman always reminded his team to adapt and overcome.

That’s a mantra his friends are convinced he'll rely on as he moves ahead with his own recovery. Schapelhouman says he considers his neighbor his hero.

Dustin Yoder hopped the fence and helped him after his fall.

Yoder said Schapelhouman walked him through it and told him exactly what to do. “This guy epitomizes calm under pressure,” Yoder said.

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