Courage under fire

Wilson Ogletree, a Columbia College-Hancock Field, N.Y., student, rescues man from burning building.

By Leon Stevenson III
It was just another cold Syracuse morning for Wilson Ogletree, an adult student at Columbia College–Hancock Field studying psychology.

On the morning of Jan. 3, 2011, Ogletree left his workplace, Target, and headed to the library to pick up a book for class. He noticed a house on fire and immediately rushed to help with the assistance of two other men, one of whom was homeless. Ogletree said he didn’t panic, just asked where the victim was.

“Smoke obscured my vision, so I had to feel around with my foot, and I found a man passed out on the first floor living room,” he says. “The man was at least 265 lbs. – I’m 165 lbs. and here I am dragging him out of the house.”

According to Ogletree, the culprit was a faulty wire from a plug-in heater.

“I’m glad everyone was okay, but the house was destroyed,” Ogletree said.

Police and firefighters thanked him and called him a hero, but Ogletree is reluctant to receive the praise saying, “I don’t need the recognition. I might be a hero, but if the same thing happened again the same way, I’d do it again. Not for interviews, just because it’s the right thing to do.”

According to his wife, Tracy, he's also pulled a man out of a wrecked car. “I think he likes playing the hero!” she said.

When he went in to work the next day, everybody gave him a standing ovation. He said he teared up.

He said he's thought about the origin of his heroism, and it goes back to his mother.

“My mother was one of those ‘down South’ mothers who didn’t take any mess, and when she passed [three years ago], I was left to pick up the pieces and had to figure out what I wanted to do with my life. It’s a shame that it took her passing for me to get motivated, but better late than never.”

Ogletree never finished high school. He earned his GED in 2005 working with an adult education program and was named the program's 2005 Adult Student of the Year. He then was accepted to Columbia College in his hometown of Syracuse, where he is now in his third year of a psychology major with a minor in human services.

“I love Columbia College because it helped me become positive,” says Ogletree. “I’ve spent my whole life helping people. Now with continuing my education and working toward my degree, I kind of want to be a little bit selfish, and finally focus on bettering me. If I can do something like that, I’ve accomplished something.”

His aspirations for the future consist of two words: helping people.

“That’s what it’s all about. I get to focus on myself for a change at school, but at the end of the day, I know that’s what I’m here for.”

As for the house fire, he says, “I’m glad I did what I did … now it’s time to move on, one day at a time.”

Watch a video of the rescue


j. hammill said...

Wilson, you were awesome, showing true "courage under fire!" Thank you for being a leader!!!

J. Hammill