Menlo Park Fire Chief Back on Duty After Paralyzing Fall | NBC Bay Area

Menlo Park Fire Chief Back on Duty After Paralyzing Fall

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    NBC Bay Area's Marianne Favro shows how the Menlo Park Fire Department chief is leading by example. (Published Wednesday, March 26, 2014)

    Nothing is stopping Menlo Park's fire chief  from returning to duty.

    Last May, Harold Schapelhouman suffered a paralyzing fall from a ladder while trimming bushes at his San Jose home. The longtime firefighter suffered a broken neck and hurt his spinal cord in the fall.

    Schapelhouman is now back on duty full time after a long road to recovery. He spent 66 days in the hospital and has had extensive physical therapy.

    Three decades of experience on the front lines rescuing others helped the chief return to what he calls an agency that never sleeps.

    "A lot of those emotions in this injury were the same you've got to overcome, accept," Schapelhouman said. "Move past it and improvise which is what we do in our jobs in fire service everyday."

    Now everyday comes with its own challenges for Schapelhouman.

    He can only type with one hand and he has to allow extra time to get into his adaptive van and drive to meetings.

    Despite developing new ways to do things, the chief admits he is frustrated by what he can't do.

    "I used to be able to stand up for the Pledge of Allegiance," he said. "It bugs me that I can't do it."

    Schapelhouman said he does his best to not spend too much time looking back. He said his goal was always not just to return to work, but to make a difference for the 110 employees he oversees and the community he serves.

    "Specifically for people with disability," he said. "Your life doesn't have to be over. You can still contribute. How you do things is the trick, but you can never give up."