Chris Wilhelm, MD, spent 24 years in the U.S. Air Force, a career that included tours in Afghanistan and Iraq. When he retired and joined MU Health Care in 2021 as a pediatrician, Wilhelm was ready to settle into a less action-packed lifestyle.
Or so he thought.
“After about six months, I needed something that would challenge me physically as well as mentally,” Wilhelm said.
Wilhelm decided to become a volunteer firefighter for the Boone County Fire Protection District. That meant completing an initial training program — about 450 hours over the course of four months — to learn the basics of extinguishing fires, performing rescues and handling hazardous materials.
“It is hard, and it's especially hard starting this training out at the age of 47,” Wilhelm said. “I'm being trained right alongside people who are younger than my own children, but that's where the concept of teamwork becomes involved, because I know they are picking up for me and carrying me through.”
Wilhelm is one of several MU Health Care employees whose desire to help people in need led them to join the Boone County Fire Protection District team as volunteer firefighters and EMTs. They respond to fires, injury accidents and other emergencies that occur outside of Columbia’s city limits.
“Chris is a unique man, and to have somebody of that quality and that caliber join this organization, to me, says two things,” said Gale Blomenkamp, assistant chief for the Boone County Fire Protection District. “It says a lot about him as a person and a community member, but it also says a lot about this organization, because it's something that a 24-year veteran of the military saw value in and wanted to be a part of.”
For Wilhelm, the call to serve doesn’t stop when his workday is done.
“Illnesses affect people's lives and their families’ lives, and we, as physicians, just want to help them,” Wilhelm said. “That, for me, spills over into what I do on my off time. Some people might think I'm a thrill-seeker, but that's not why I’m doing this.
“When Mrs. Smith's house is on fire out in the middle of nowhere in Boone County, who’s going to put out that fire? Somebody has to go. The nice thing is that the Boone County Fire Protection District has set up a training platform that will give you the skills as well as the equipment to be able to do what you can do to help Mrs. Smith out.”
Chris Wilhelm, MD, is a pediatrician at Battle Avenue Medical Building.