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Paul Neal Adair, Texan oilfield firefighter. 1915 - 2004

"In this business, you don't want someone who thinks he can walk on water like some of them do"

"A man is a hero, not because he is braver than anyone else, but because he is brave for 10 minutes longer." – "Ralph Waldo Emerson

Red Adair, the oilfield firefighting hero, does not call himself "brave". He is simply "doing a job which needs doing, and doing it well". Born on 15th June, 1915 to Mary and Charles Adair, he grew up with his four brothers and three sisters in Houston, Texas. His father worked as a blacksmith, and his poor upbringing meant that he had to leave his education during high school to share in supporting the family. He began working in a local drugstore, and held a variety of jobs, before joining the Otis Pressure Control Company in the Texas oilfields, in 1938.

His joining Otis was to be the beginning of his lifetime career in the oil industry, and although he was only doing 'odd jobs', he nonetheless gained experience which was to prove of enormous value later on in life. The Second World War gave him his second lift. In 1945 he joined the US Army, serving as a Staff Sergeant in the 139th Bomb Disposal Squadron. During this time, he gained much experience with explosives of all sorts, after which he returned to Texas, and began to use his knowledge in peacetime. He began to work for Myron Kinley (the pioneer of oilfield fire control), and worked alongside him until 1959.

Following his resignation from the Kinley Company, Red formed his own organisation, the 'Red Adair Company', to provide oilfield safety and fire control services to the industry. Through his association with Kinley, he recognised that 'blowouts' (when an active oil or gas well explodes or begins burning) needed both specialised knowledge and equipment. His combination of daring, intelligence and imagination in this highly specialised field began to win him the respect of the whole oil industry. He has always taken a direct yet safe approach to firefighting, and designed his own equipment for use in 'wild well' control, as well as training his crews to use his techniques and equipment.

His fame spread. Before long, he was acknowledged as the world's foremost expert in oilfield fire control, and he and his men tackled blowouts all over the world. The equipment he used was designed to be both effective, versatile, but above all, easy to transport – after all, his crews could be called upon to be almost anywhere in the world at very short notice. He became even more famous following the release of the 1968 film Hellfighters, a film loosely based on his career, with John Wayne in the starring role. He worked closely with the directors of the film, and is credited as the Technical Advisor, and certainly no-one else in the world at that time knew more about oil fires than he did.

Achievements and Inventions

No two fires are the same, whether in homes, factories, offices or on an oilfield. Red's experience proved this, and he devised increasingly specialised equipment as the industry and knowledge grew. The rapid development of offshore drilling platforms meant that firefighting equipment had to be tailored to work in a marine enivironment. Red designed and built Semi-Submersible Firefighting vessels, and was heavily involved in the design of equipment for Phillips Petroleum (the Red-I) and Occidental Petroleum's Tharos, still in service in the North Sea field off the coast of Scotland. Further vessels of his design were used in the IXTOC blowout in the Gulf of MexicoAramco's Queen Mary being among them.

To his enormous credit, Red was not in the business just for glory or profit. In 1972 he formed another company, The Red Adair Service and Marine Company, which sold and leased a wide variety of specialised equipment to others in the industry. Through this company, he also provided training and consulting facilities, so that other companies could share his expertise. (He sold the Red Adair Company in 1993, and formed Adair Enterprises, whose purpose is consulting, product endorsements and investing.)

Red is still best-known for his terrestrial exploits, however. His expertise was instrumental in controlling fires in the CATCO offshore fire in 1959, "The Devil's Cigarette Lighter", a massive high-pressure blowout in the Sahara Desert (1962), the 1970 Bay Marchand blaze off the Louisiana coast, the 1977 Bravo North Sea blowout,and the Piper Alpha disaster in 1988.

Possibly his finest moment however, was the nine-month task of putting out the fires in Kuwait, following Saddam Hussein's retreat at the end of the Gulf War. The Iraqi troops had deliberately blown up 117 oil wells, and Red Adair was foremost in organising the massive logistical and safety program. It is a credit to the man, his equipment and his teams that the task was completed in such a short time. The original estimates for the whole project was between three and five years.

He has received worldwide recognition and awards, including letters of commendation from several presidents, the Walton Clark Medal, awarded by the Franklin Institute, and the American Academy of Achievement Golden Plate Award

He is also a charitable man, giving both time and money to many charity organisations (notably children's charities) and the Muscular Dystrophy Association, the Leukemia Society of America, the Easter Seal Society, the Epilepsy Association and the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation.

Red Adair died on 8th August 2004 of natural causes, at the age of 89.


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