Jim Wilhelm spent his childhood climbing on Amherst fire engines and watching his father put out blazes.
Inspired by what he saw as a youth, he donned the uniform in 1977 and rose through the ranks over the course of 40 years. Now he’ll be promoted to fire chief.
Mayor Mark Costilow, with the blessing Monday of the Amherst Civil Service commission, will appoint Wilhelm to the job.
“His leadership’s really been proven in the last few weeks, getting us through this tough time we’ve been in,” the mayor said.
Wilhelm has served as interim chief since early March, when former chief Greg Knoll was placed on administrative leave. Knoll later resigned amid an investigation into whether he used city gas in his personal vehicle.
Costilow called Wilhelm “the one person in the department who can lead our firefighters through this time.”
The feeling was echoed by safety-service director John Jeffreys: “Chief Wilhelm, as has been stated, is definitely the person for the job. The city’s fortunate to have him… He’s an exceptional guy, without question.”
Wilhelm was promoted to lieutenant in 1986 and assistant chief in 1992. For more than 30 years, he’s helped chiefs Ralph Zilch, Wayne Northeim, and Knoll make major purchases such as trucks and breathing apparatus. In 1987, he was placed in charge of all fire equipment and its maintenance.
Wilhelm was instrumental in the 1992 addition to the Church Street fire station. He implemented the AFD’s Incident Command System, served as an assistant instructor for both Amherst and Lorain County fire training classes, and is certified by the Ohio Fire Academy, National Fire Academy, Ohio Department of Public Safety, Bowling Green University Fire School, and Kent State University Department of Leadership in Fire Service.
That says nothing on his on-the-job experience or historical knowledge. Wilhelm, a key member of the Amherst Historical Society, has briefed the News-Times on any number of subjects from the evolution of Central School to the Great Train Wreck of 1916 — and last year, he organized a 100th anniversary ceremony in observance of the latter.
Wilhelm was also instrumental in the creation of the Live Oak Fire Museum, which opened in 2013 at the historical society’s Sandstone Village on Milan Avenue.
Gina Grasso, who chairs the Civil Service commission, praised Wilhelm’s experience, saying he is the right choice to groom lieutenants. She said he has “a continuing education mindset.”
The did voice concerns that Wilhelm is not far from retirement age.
For his part, Wilhelm said he feels good, is able to get around, can still contribute on fire calls, and has no plans to step aside anytime soon.
He was thankful for the promotion: “It’s so unexpected. I’ve had the opportunity to do it more than once, but due to the fact of what came about, I’ll grab it by the horns and run with it for a while.”
The promotion to chief will create an assistant chief vacancy at the AFD, and in turn a chain of promotions down the ladder.
No date has been set for a swearing-in ceremony.
Jason Hawk can be reached at 440-988-2801 or @EditorHawk on Twitter.