Farewell, Hellfighter

Oil field fire-fighter extraordinaire, Paul N. “Red” Adair, has died; age 89. The legend, who at the age of 76 was swinging valves into place atop out-of-control wells in the Kuwaiti oil field fires set by Saddam Hussein’s troops at the end of the 1991 Gulf War, died on 7 August 2004 of natural causes at a Houston hospital.

In an oil field fire-fighting career which spanned 56 years, Red Adair has been credited with battling more than 2,000 onshore and offshore oil well fires. Adair also revolutionised the art of snuffing and controlling wells spewing out high-pressure jets of oil and gas through the use of explosives, water cannons, bulldozers, drilling mud and concrete.

Adair’s proudest boast was workers at his Red Adair Co Inc never suffered serious injury because he would spend weeks getting the correct equipment into place before any well fire was tackled. According to Adair, “It scares you, [a blowout]: all the noise, the rattling, the shaking, but the look on everybody’s face when you're finished and packing, it’s the best smile in the world; and there's nobody hurt, and the well’s under control.”

Adair’s proudest moment, though, came in 1968 when John Wayne played the man himself in the biopic “The Hellfighters”. According to Adair, “That’s one of the best honours in the world: To have The Duke play you in a movie.” “Hellfighter” was Adair’s nickname and was coined for his reputation of never having met a blowout he could not cap.

Born in Houston in 1915 to a Houston blacksmith, Adair became a renowned troubleshooter in 1938. Whilst working as an oil labourer for the Otis Pressure Control Co in Texas he controlled a blown valve on an oil derrick when all around him were running for cover.

Adair formed the Red Adair Co Inc in 1959 and came to global prominence three years later when the company, with Adair in the forefront, tackled the 137 metre Devil’s Cigarette Lighter in the Sahara.

The pinnacle of his career had to be the 1988 explosion of the Piper Alpha platform in the North Sea, where Adair put out the blaze which took the lives of 167 men, and just after the 1991 Gulf War, where he and his firm stopped 117 well fires in only nine months. The work had expected to have taken between three to five years to complete.

Red Adair once said: “Retire? I don't know what that word means. As long as a man is able to work and he’s productive out there and he feels good - keep at it. I’ve got too many of my friends that retired and went home and got on a rocking chair, and about a year and a half later, I’m always going to the cemetery.” But retire he did in 1994.

Adair, a man who never showed fear in his entire life, once joked about what awaited him in the Great Beyond. According to Adair, “I’ve done made a deal with the devil. He said he’s going to give me an air-conditioned place when I go down there, if I go there, so I won’t put all the fires out.”

Heaven would be a dull place without Red Adair there but, god forbid, should Adair not make it beyond St Peter’s gates, the Devil better keep his word. Otherwise, a snowball would have every chance in Hell once Adair’s through with the place.


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