MENLO PARK, Calif. - He has been to many of the worst disasters in the united states, rescuing victims or recovering bodies. But after 40 years of triumphs, tragedies, and an accident that left him paraplegic, Harold Schapelhouman retired Wednesday as the Menlo Park Fire Protection District Chief.
He also leaves the highly regarded Federal Urban Search and Rescue Unit he helped form.
"I will miss the people. I'll miss having the latitude to make things happen," he said.
Schapelhouman's last official act was to preside over a promotions ceremony for firefighters.
"Every deployment you go on, especially as a federal responder, it's going to change you when you come back," he said.
It was Schapelhouman and his team who were called to New York just after the terrorist attacks on 9/11.
"The dust and the debris even got stuck in your shoes. That was hard. It was hard for the country," Schapelhouman said.
He and his crew also saved countless people from drowning in New Orleans when Hurricane Katrina hit. But he says his worst experience was the aftermath of the Oklahoma City bombing in 1995.
"That pressure to try and give them back their loved ones, even though that was not what we were seeing," Schapelhouman said.
The job also meant personal sacrifices for himself and his family.
"As a boss, I never took a vacation with the family far away. I always felt like I needed to be around," he said.
Many of those who worked for him say he was a great boss.
"He's a good guy. Loves the district. Takes care of the men and women who work for him. He's a pretty unique guy," said Captain Randy Kelly.
Schapelhouman overcame a fall off a ladder while trimming bushes at home eight years ago, breaking his neck and putting him in a wheelchair. He kept going.
Schapelhouman says he may write a book during his retirement.
"It's going to be weird not to wear a uniform. In one way that's great. In another way, I am going to miss that. That badge that patch. Working for the fire district, that means something." he said.