Famed Oil Well Firefighter Red Adair Dies at 89
Sun Aug 8, 3:10 PM ET
By Jeff Franks
HOUSTON (Reuters) - Legendary oil field firefighter Red Adair, a fearless Texan who put out massive oil well fires around the globe, died on Saturday at the age of 89, his family said on Sunday.
Adair had been in ill health for several years and died of natural causes at a Houston hospital.
The stocky, homespun Adair got his start in the oil fields of southern Texas during the Great Depression and went on to extinguish nearly 3,000 oil well fires in more than 50 years of firefighting.
Among them were 119 fires in Kuwaiti oil fields at the end of the 1991 Gulf War (news - web sites), the infamous "Devil's Cigarette Lighter" in Algeria in 1962 whose 800-foot flames were seen from space by astronaut John Glenn, the 1979 blowout of Mexico's Ixtoc-1 well in the Bay of Campeche and the 1988 Piper Alpha platform disaster in the North Sea that killed 167 men.
Because of his death-defying exploits, the world tended to glorify Adair's work -- John Wayne made a 1968 movie about him called "The Hellfighters" - but he never did.
"What it boils down to is dirty and hard work. It is nasty and dangerous," the red-headed Adair once told Reuters in an interview.
"We look at all these blow-outs as bad. The day you get to where you say one job is worse than another is the day you get careless -- and that is something we can't afford," he said.
Adair, whose real name was Paul, began fighting oil well fires by chance in 1938 when one day, working as an itinerant worker, he delivered equipment to an oil field near the town of Alice in south Texas.
An oil well blew out while he was in the area and Myron Kinley, the leading oil well firefighter of that era, needed help.
"He said, Boy, do you want to work and make some money?"' Adair recalled.
Adair, who had grown accustomed to fire when as a boy he worked alongside his blacksmith father, quickly accepted the job and emerged as a star firefighter unafraid of walking up to the most ferocious oil well.
Adair bought McKinley's company for $125 in 1959 and formed Red Adair Co., which became known for having all-red equipment.
Adair drummed up business by sending his workers out in bright red Cadillacs or Lincolns that were easily spotted throughout the oil patch.
When a well blew out, oil field hands would look for the signature red cars and flag them down.
Finding workers was never easy for Adair because he needed men with his same rare combination of humility, level-headedness and courage.
"In this business, you don't want someone who thinks he can walk on water like some of them do," Adair said.
"If a guy's afraid, you sure as hell don't want him because if a man is afraid, he can't think. You have to react quickly out there and you can never let them coveralls run away."