He was trimming foliage when he fell, but whether the ladder failed or he slipped remains unclear. The chief underwent an 11-hour long operation on May 13, said fire district board president Steve Nachtsheim, who described the surgeon as "extremely pleased" with how it went.
The chief's love of conversation didn't miss a beat. Even being on a respirator after the surgery "didn't stop Harold from communicating," Mr. Nachtsheim said.
No one knows yet how long the chief will need to recuperate. The fire board met May 16 to select an interim chief, and named former chief Douglas Sporleder to the position.
Mr. Sporleder, the district's fire chief in 2005 and 2006, returned to that position on May 20. He has also served as chief of the Santa Clara County Fire Department and fire marshal from 1982 to 2001.
The Menlo Park Fire Protection District encompasses Menlo Park, Atherton, East Palo Alto and nearby unincorporated areas.
While there's no anticipated time of return for Chief Schapelhouman, Mr. Nachtsheim said the board will meet again in June to re-evaluate the situation. "We're hoping he's back by then."
The need to find a temporary leader arises at a delicate time for the district, which recently began mediation sessions for the first time in several years with the firefighters' union to sort out a long-standing impasse over labor issues.
Mr. Nachtsheim said that an attorney involved in the sessions attended the board meeting, and that other members of the district have also been participating in the mediation. "We're going to do our best to make the place run the way it's supposed to."
Family, friends and neighbors continue to visit Chief Schapelhouman in the hospital. "There's a massive outpouring of support," Mr. Nachtsheim said. "He's a very well-liked guy."