Tuesday's In Texas: Red Adair
by Ted Poe on June 21, 2016 at 11:12 AM
Born the son of an Irish blacksmith in Houston, Paul Neal Adair, commonly known as ‘‘Red’’ started his long service as a fire fighter in World War II with the 139th Bomb Disposal Squadron.
While enlisted, he was sent across Japan to find undetonated bombs and safely disarm them. However, it wasn’t until after his service in the Army that he became renowned for his bravery and skill as a fire fighter. He began working under Myron Kinley, a pioneer and innovator in oil-well firefighting.
Adair worked diligently to learn the many new inventions and techniques Kinley had created, and by 1959 he was ready to strike out on his own. He founded the Red Adair Co., a private company solely devoted to fighting large scale oil fires, and over the course of his career he put out more than two thousand of these fires, both on land and on offshore platforms.
In November of 1961, a particularly large fire, nicknamed the ‘‘Devil’s Cigarette Lighter,’’ broke out in the middle of the Algerian Sahara. The flame was over four hundred and fifty feet high.
Despite best efforts, the fire burned continuously, with no end in sight. That was, until Adair and his crew were called to the scene. Driving a modified bulldozer right up to the well where the fire was burning, Adair was able to get a large nitroglycerin charge into the well, allowing the explosion to displace enough oxygen that the monster of a fire was finally extinguished.
His feats in the Sahara gained him and his crew a reputation worldwide. They additionally helped with a large gas leak off the coast of Australia, and contributed to capping the biggest oil well blowout to have ever been recorded in the North Sea. Even in 1991 at the age of seventy-five, Adair took part in the extinguishing of countless oil well fires that were set by Iraqi troops in Kuwait during the Gulf War.
Soon after he retired, he sold his world famous company. His top employees went on to form their own company, the International Well Control. His great courage and success in his field led to a John Wayne movie called ‘‘Hellfighters’’ to be made, which was loosely based on his encounters in the Sahara. In 2004, at the age of eighty-nine, Paul Adair passed away, but both his men and many others will remember him as a pioneer in firefighting who not only saved many cities from millions of dollars in damages from these large scale oil fires, but also thousands of lives.
And that’s just the way it is.