Paul Neal “Red” Adair was born June 18, 1915 and lived to be 89 years old in spite of his dangerous occupation. Red Adair was a firefighter, which would be dangerous enough, but Red Adair fought gas and oil well fires…and he was the best!
During World War II, Red served with a bomb disposal unit. When he returned, he got a job with Myron Kinley, who specialized in fighting oil well fires and blowouts. By 1959 he had gained enough experience to start his own company, specializing in capping oil well blowouts on land and offshore. In his long career, he battled over 2000 fires!
His third year in business, Adair gained international attention by extinguishing a fire at the Gassi Touil gas field in the Algerian Sahara. Nicknamed the Devil’s Cigarette Lighter, this well shot up a 450′ torch of flame from November 13, 1961 until April 28, 1962–burning roughly 6000 cubic feet of gas every second for more than five months! In 1968 John Wayne played the role of Red Adair in the movie Hellfighters, which was based on this fire. While the movie was playing in theaters, Adair was sealing a gas leak at a gas and oil platform off the south-east coast of Australia near Victoria.
Red loved what he did and didn’t look forward to retirement. During the first Gulf War in 1991, Saddam Hussein ordered his Iraqi troops to retreat from Kuwait and set their oil wells afire as a distraction. At age 75, Red Adair took part in extinguishing the blazes. This is the job I remember his for the most, because my husband was serving in Kuwait as a military officer at the time. He tells of fires so intense they filled your eyes, nose, and lungs with stinging, searing smoke that obliterated the sun and threatened to collapse the economies of both Kuwait and the countries who depended on their products.
A handful of quotes paint a vivid sketch of Red Adair–a legend in his own time:
“With bombs and fires, you get only one mistake.”
“I’ve got cut half in two, once, and blowed up a time or two, but nothing permanent.”
“If you think it’s expensive to hire a professional to do the job, wait until you hire an amateur!”
“It scares you: 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.”
“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.”