The Digital Journalist
Selected photos from Michael O'Brien's The Face of Texas.
© Michael O'Brien

Michael O'BrienWatch a video clip of Michael O'Brien discussing Red Adair.
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Red Adair/HOUSTON - Paul Neal "Red" Adair is an old-fashioned American hero. Adair, son of a Houston blacksmith, is considered the king of the oil firefighting industry. Since 1939, when he signed on with Myron Kinley, the original pioneer of oil well fire and blowout control, Adair has been taking on the fires of hell.

In 1959, he formed the Red Adair Company, Inc., and the rest is firefighting history. Over some three decades, he and his men - at great personal risk - extinguished some of the most notorious oil fires around the globe: the "Devil's Cigarette Lighter" blaze in the Sahara in 1962; the offshore fire at Bay Morehand, Louisiana in 1970; the IXTOC#1 blowout in the Gulf of Mexico in 1979; the fire on the Piper Alpha oil platform in 1988; and most famously, 117 flaming oil wells in Kuwait , set ablaze by Saddam Hussein, near the end of the Gulf War. Experts predicted the Kuwait firestorm would take three to five years to defeat; Adair and his men killed the fires in just nine months.

For his heroism, Adair - who dropped out of high school to help support his four brothers and three sisters - has been honored by Presidents Carter, Johnson and Bush; and he has received numerous awards, including the Outstanding Houstonian Award, the American Academy of Achievement Golden Plate Award, and the Franklin Institute's Walton Clark Medal. Adair also served as a consultant for the John Wayne film Hellfighters (1968), for which he and his men were the inspiration.

But Adair's contributions extend beyond firefighting. He has developed the most reliable firefighting equipment in the industry, and is recognized as the pioneer of the semi-submersible firefighting vessels used by large oil companies to put out oil platform fires. In 1972, Adair founded The Red Adair Service and Marine Company, Inc. to design, sell and lease his equipment, dubbed the "Rolls Royce of firefighting equipment."

Since 1993, Adair has worked largely as a consultant.