Loving a job for 40 years | July 16, 2021 | Almanac | Almanac Online |


Viewpoint - July 16, 2021

Loving a job for 40 years

Former fire chief finds satisfaction and meaning in his fire service career

by Harold Schapelhouman

In looking back on my 40 years of service to the community, I want everyone to know how much I have appreciated being a public servant and identified as just a firefighter.

For those who are tired of tech, or are just looking for a career that lives by a code of conduct and professionalism that inspires service over self, running toward a problem instead of away from danger, actually experiencing the satisfaction of helping others in their moment of need, working as part of a team, or just looking for a deeper meaning and purpose after a worldwide pandemic, then perhaps the fire service is for you.

The Menlo Park Fire Protection District is an independent public agency with its own governing board that is elected by the residents of Atherton, East Palo Alto, Menlo Park, unincorporated San Mateo County areas and the SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory, with a population of 100,000 people within a 29-square-mile area served by seven strategically located fire stations, staffed by 33 line personnel per day operating from 11 emergency vehicles.

While other city-based fire agencies may consolidate these services for financial or practical purposes, a district fire service model already takes that into account. What that simply means is we work to protect and equally serve one of the most diverse and blended response areas in the nation.

Menlo Fire has become its own brand, with a local, state, national and international following and reputation as the "biggest little fire agency in the country," known for its innovative approach to public safety, ability to support new and emerging technologies through its many projects and programs that provide enhanced services to the local community first, but ultimately to the region, state and nation, especially in the areas of technical search, rescue and recovery.

None of this could be possible without a highly motivated, well-trained and experienced cadre of line firefighters, supervisors, chief officers, support staff and dedicated fire board. It's been the honor of a lifetime, and to have been the first fire chief promoted from inside the organization in 21 years, who was then able to serve in that capacity for the last 15 years.

Consistent, long-term leadership helps to build continuity, predictability and organizational stability, which is critical in agencies entrusted with the public well-being and emergency response.

I've known few people who can actually say that they loved their job, so I feel fortunate to be able to admit that not only am I one of them, but I always looked forward to just coming to work, because I knew that what we ultimately did was important to the community, because you could call on us at any time, any hour, or in any moment of need. You entrust us with your life, family's overall well-being and the preservation of your property.

No greater responsibility can, or could have been given, and the privilege of leading a world-class organization that not only does it well, but seamlessly, will be something I proudly carry with me for the rest of my days!

Harold Schapelhouman retired in June from a career with the Menlo Park Fire Protection District, where he worked as a firefighter and fire chief.


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