This is Steve Ember.
this is Faith Lapidus with People in America in VOA Special English. Today we tell about Red Adair. He was famous for putting out dangerous oil
well fires around the world.
Paul Neal Adair was born in Houston, Texas in nineteen
fifteen. He was one of five sons of a
metal worker. He also had three
sisters. While growing up, he became
known as Red Adair because his hair was bright red. The color became a trademark for Adair. He wore red clothes and red boots. He drove a red car, and his crew members used
red trucks and red equipment.
a young man, Red Adair dropped out of high school to help support his
family. He worked as a laborer for
several different companies. In nineteen
thirty-eight, Adair got his first oil-related job with the Otis Pressure
World War Two, Adair served on a trained army team that removed and destroyed
bombs. After the war, he returned to
Houston and took a job with Myron Kinley.
At the time, Kinley was the leader in putting out fires in oil wells.
Red Adair worked with Myron Kinley for fourteen years. But in nineteen fifty-nine, Adair started his
During his thirty-six years in business, Red
Adair and his crews battled more than two thousand fires all over the
world. Some were on land. Others were on ocean oil-drilling
structures. Some fires were in burning
oil wells. Others were in natural gas
Adair was a leader in a specialized and extremely dangerous profession. Putting out oil well fires can be
difficult. This is because oil well
fires are extinguished, or put out, at the wellhead just above ground. Normally, explosives are used to stop the
fire from burning. The explosion robs
the fire of oxygen. But, once the fire
is out, the well still needs to be covered, or capped, to stop the flow of
oil. This is the most dangerous part of
the process. Any new heat or fire could
cause the leaking well and the surrounding area to explode.
Red Adair developed modern methods to
extinguish and cover burning oil wells.
They became known in the industry as Wild Well Control
techniques. In addition to explosives,
the techniques involved large amounts of water and dirt. Adair also developed special equipment made
of bronze metal to help extinguish oil well fires. The modern tools and his Wild Well Control
techniques earned Red Adair and his crews the honor of being called the "best
in the business."
Red Adair was known for not being afraid. He was also known for his sense of calm and
safety. None of his workers were ever
killed while putting out oil well or gas fires.
He described his work this way:
"It scares you -- all the noise, the rattling, the shaking. But the look on everyone's face, when you are
finished and packing, it is the best smile in the world; and there is nobody
hurt, and the well is under control."
One of Red Adair's most important projects was in nineteen
sixty-two. He and his crew put out a
natural gas fire in the Sahara Desert in Algeria. The fire had been burning for
six months. This famous fire was called the "Devil's Cigarette Lighter."
Fire from the natural gas well shot about one hundred forty
meters into the air. The fire was so big that American astronaut John Glenn
could see it from space as he orbited Earth.
The desert sand around the well had melted into glass from
the extreme heat. News reports said
Adair used about three hundred forty kilograms of nitroglycerine explosive material
to pull the oxygen out of the fire.
success with the "Devil's Cigarette Lighter" and earlier well fires captured
the imagination of the American film industry.
In nineteen sixty-eight, Hollywood made an action film called "Hellfighters." It was loosely based on events in Red Adair's
life. Actor John Wayne played an oil
well firefighter from Houston, Texas whose life was similar to Adair's. Adair served as an advisor to Wayne while the
film was being made. The two men became
close friends. Adair said one of the
best honors in the world was to have John Wayne play him in a movie.
is John Wayne in the film "Hellfighters."
He has just flown into Venezuela to help his crew fight a dangerous
fire. He has brought needed supplies
JOE HORN: "Wooo. It's about time you got back to earning an
CHANCE BUCKMAN (JOHN WAYNE): "If
you think I'm going to say it's a pleasure to be here, forget it."
GEORGE HARRIS: "Hi boss."
CHANCE BUCKMAN: "George, nice to
see you. I spent a lot of your money."
GREG PARKER: "Well, what did you
do, buy up all the control heads in Houston?"
CHANCE BUCKMAN: "This far away
from supplies, you get all the spares you can."
GREG PARKER: "This is Colonel
Valdez, Chance. He's in charge of keeping us from getting shot."
CHANCE BUCKMAN: "Well, I hope you
do a good job, Colonel."
COLONEL VALDEZ: "If I do not, you
will have my profound apologies."
JOE HORN: "The longer you guys
stand there, the longer it's going to take to unload this thing."
CHANCE BUCKMAN: "Right Joe…"
nineteen eighty-eight, Adair fought what was possibly the world's worst
off-shore accident. It was at the Piper
Alpha drilling structure in the North Sea.
Occidental Petroleum operated the structure off the coast of
Scotland. The structure produced oil and
gas from twenty-four wells.
hundred sixty-seven men were killed when the structure exploded after a gas
leak. Red Adair had to stop the fires
and cap the wells. He faced winds
blowing more than one hundred twenty kilometers an hour, and ocean waves at
least twenty meters high.
March of nineteen ninety-one, Red Adair went to Kuwait following the Persian
Gulf War. He and his crews were called
in to help put out fires set by the Iraqi army as it fled from coalition
forces. But Adair faced serious problems
in putting out the fires. In June, he
flew to Washington, D.C. to talk to government officials about those
problems. He told congressional
lawmakers that he needed more water and more equipment. He also described his
concerns about medical services for his men, and the buried landmines
also met with then-President George H.W. Bush.
President Bush listened to his concerns and offered his support. Within weeks, Adair had the equipment he
needed to complete the job.
Red Adair Company capped more than one hundred wells. His crews were among
twenty-seven teams from sixteen countries called in to fight the fires. The
crews' efforts put out about seven hundred Kuwaiti fires. Their efforts saved
millions of barrels of oil. Some experts
say the operation also helped prevent an environmental tragedy.
job had been expected to take three to five years. However, it was completed in just eight
months. In a ceremony, the Emir of
Kuwait extinguished the last burning well on November sixth, nineteen
addition to Kuwait, Adair and his men carried out sixteen other jobs that year.
They worked in India, Venezuela, Nigeria, the Gulf of Mexico and the United
Adair had spent his seventy-sixth birthday in Kuwait working side by side with
his crew. When asked when he might
retire, he told reporters: "Retire? I do not know what that word means. As long as a man is able to work, and he is
productive out there and he feels good – keep at it."
Red Adair finally did retire in nineteen ninety-four. At that time, he joked about where he would
end up when he died. He said he hoped to
be in Heaven. But he said this about
Hell: "I have made a deal with the
devil. He said he is 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."
Adair died in two thousand four. He was
eighty-nine years old. At his funeral,
many family members and friends honored him by wearing red clothes. Many Americans remember Red Adair for his
bravery. He lived his life on the edge
of danger. He was known for his
willingness to risk his own life to save others.
his life, Adair received Special Letters of Recognition from Presidents Lyndon
Johnson, Jimmy Carter and George H.W. Bush.
One of the letters said this:
"You have served your country well by your willingness to do a dangerous
and important job with a rare ability. In an age said to be without heroes, you
are an authentic hero."
This program was written by Jill Moss. It was produced by Lawan Davis. This is Faith Lapidus.
this is Steve Ember. Join us again next
week for People in America in VOA Special English.