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|"Red Adair" – a blast from the past|
To celebrate Industrial Fire Journal's 20th anniversary we will be re-publishing throughout 2010 some of the best articles from the last 20 years. Here, from issue number 1 (1990) of Industrial Fire Journal, is an interview with Red Adair, described by one US president as "the man who has probably saved more oil than any single individual in the world".
What has been the worst incident of your career?
Every assignment is tough. Even the smallest one can be most dangerous. I remember one small fire for Mobil Oil where every time we approached it, the wind would just fan up the flames over us - that fire just seemed to follow us about whichever angle we approached it. So you can see – small size doesn’t mean small risk.
As a fire and blowout specialist, who has been the biggest influence on your career?
I certainly regard Myron Kinley as my teacher. I joined his company, M.M. Kinley, in 1946 after I came out of Bomb Disposal. He was one of the original pioneers of oil well fire and blowout controls. Together we did a lot of innovative firefighting and invented a whole range of new equipment, such as callipers and perforators, for the industry.
In your opinion, is the industrial firefighter in greater demand than ever before?
He’s in greater demand, certainly. He’s a very special guy. Here in Houston, for example, we had a refinery fire initiated by a lightning strike on oil storage tanks. The firefighters had done an excellent job of containing the fire behind a dike and were using water with just the right amount of foam to extinguish it. I was really proud of the way these firefighters handled it.
How important is having the right equipment to you?
Essential. We have a lot of new equipment, capping devices, foams, fire retardant chemicals, sprinkler systems, a semi-submersible firefighting vessel, breathing apparatus sets and the best fire firefighting clothing we can buy – we all wear Nomex underwear too. This is just so important.
What training do your own firefighters have to undergo?
I have trained all of my men personally. In my company we take on firefighters when they’re young, and work ‘em through well-head schools and on the job training.
What can you tell us about the four key men who head your firefighting teams?
Raymond Henry is a senior firefighter. He joined us in 1964 and has participated in every facet of the Red Adair operations, both in firefighting and management. Since joining the company, Raymond has worked very closely with the industry, developing and refining the skills that he uses in controlling wild wells all over the world.
What gives you the most satisfaction in your work?
I suppose it’s approaching a technical problem – like a well on fire – and solving it. It’s a good feeling when you put out the fire and everyone has the best grin you’ve ever seen. Everyone remembers these occasions. Do you know we still get letters, cards and faxes from guys around the world in places where we’ve worked? Even one well I put out in 1947!
What areas in industry present the biggest threat?
Refineries by far. Around 85% of the incidents we’re called into deal with have been caused by human error – a foul-up – or an Act Of God such as a lightning strike. So many fires could be prevented by good preventative maintenance.
What accomplishment are you proudest of?
Here at Red Adair Company we’re proudest of the fact we have had no fatalities. Our worst accident ever was a broken leg caused by falling debris from a burning derrick.
Are your services in big demand around the world?
Absolutely. Some of us have just spent 20 months in South America, others have been to Muscat, dealt with blown wells in Libya, Louisiana, Oklahoma, Wyoming.
How did you feel about being immortalised in that 1969 John Wayne movie, ‘Hellfighters’?
It was a real pleasure working with John. And the thing about that film – it did demonstrate the real and serious risks involved in drilling.
Did you know that people praised the special effects?
That’s because they were real! The crew came with me to film me fighting fires at five wells in Venezuela.
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