Paul N. “Red” Adair was born June 18, 1915 in Houston, Texas. His parents, Mary and Charles Adair, also had four other sons and three daughters. The family lived in the Heights of Houston where his father worked as a blacksmith. After attending Harvard Elementary School and Hogg Junior High School, he quit Reagan High School to help support the family. He held many and varying jobs from the time he quit high school until he went to work for the Southern Pacific Railroad in 1936.
In 1938 Red was hired by the Otis Pressure Control Company, his first oil related job. Red continued to work at odd jobs in the oil patch until he was inducted into the United States Army in 1945. Red served in the 139th Bomb Disposal Squadron through the end of World War II and achieved the rank of Staff Sergeant. He returned home to Houston following the war and went to work for Myron Kinley, the original pioneer of oilwell fire and blowout control. Red continued to work for and with Mr. Kinley until 1959.
After fourteen years with the M. M. Kinley Company, Red resigned and formed Red Adair Company, Inc. to control oilwell fires and blowouts. Through Red Adair Company, Red pioneered the development of modern-day effective Wild Well Control techniques and equipment and earned his reputation as “best in the business.” Red and other members of his firefighting team averaged controlling over 42 oilwell fires and blowouts per year, inland and offshore, all over the world. Red and his men represent over a century of Wild Well Control and expertise, completing over 1,000 jobs internationally.
Red is further recognized as the pioneer of the Semi-Submersible Firefighting vessels and was instrumental in the design of the Phillips Petroleum Company’s “Red-I” and Occidental Petroleum’s “Tharos”–both of which are in operation in the North Sea — plus Aramco’s multi-service vessel “Queen Mary,” two fireboats and Rapid Intervention Vessels (RIV) which were utilized in controlling the IXTOC Blowout in the Gulf of Mexico.
In 1972, Red decided to share his developed firefighting equipment with the industry, along with his years of experience in prevention and safety techniques. Thus, The Red Adair Service and Marine Company, Inc. was formed to design, sell and/or lease special firefighting equipment essential in controlling oilwell fires. Available equipment ranged from high pressure, vertical turbines and transfer pumps to piperacks, athey wagons with boom assemblies, and dependable water guns. The basic, proven design could be customized to meet any requirement. Often dubbed the “Rolls Royce of Firefighting Equipment,” Red feels his equipment is not just the best but the most reliable.
Among Red’s and Red Adair Company’s historic firsts were extinguishing and underwater wild well, a job on a floating vessel and the first U. S. well to be capped while on fire. Some celebrated fires extinguished by Red and his crew were the CATCO offshore fire in 1959, “The Devil’s Cigarette Lighter” in 1962 in the Sahara Desert, the massive 1970 offshore blaze at Bay Marchand, Louisiana, the April 1977 Bravo offshore blowout in the North Sea, the IXTOC #1 blowout in the Gulf of Mexico in June 1979 and the Piper Alpha disaster in July 1988.
One of Red’s greatest tasks and accomplishments occurred in 1991 following the Gulf War with Iraq. Red and his team extinguished 117 of the burning oilwell fires ignited by Sadam Hussein’s Iraqi troops retreating from Kuwait. The wells extinguished by Red and his men were located in the Ahmadi, Magwa and Burgan fields — the highest producing fields in Kuwait. Red was instrumental in expediting the shipment of crucial supplies and equipment into Kuwait by testifying before the Gulf Pollution Task Force and meeting with President George Bush concerning the logistical problems of the entire firefighting operation. Although estimates of completion of the firefighting operation ranged from three to five years, this monumental task was completed in a record nine months.
Red’s career has been recognized worldwide by the news media with magazine and newspaper articles and television commentaries and documentaries. He was the Technical Advisor on the movie Hellfighters starring John Wayne; he was a guest on the Tonight Show in 1977; and he had appearances on Good Morning America in 1979 and 1980. An authorized biography has been published entitled Red Adair: An American Hero. The movie, television appearances, success of his autobiography and his industry achievements have made Red Adair a household name.
The Prestigious Franklin Institute has awarded the Walton Clark Medal to Paul N. “Red” Adair and has elected him to a Life Fellow Membership in the Institute. The Walton Clark Medal Citation reads as follows:
For his outstanding contributions to the fighting of oilwell fires and the capping of wild wells and for his development and use of advanced techniques in carrying out these activities, and for his development of equipment to reduce the time required to control offshore blowouts.
Red has also received Special Letters of Recognition from President Jimmy Carter, President Lyndon B. Johnson, and President George Bush.
Through your undaunted courage, perseverance, and skill, you have probably saved more oil than any single individual in the world. Each time you go into a wild oil fire situation, you demonstrate again that American ingenuity, skill, and self-discipline can master the seemingly impossible. 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.
He has received many other awards, including the following:
- Outstanding Houstonian Award
- Houston Distinguished Sales and Citizenship Award
- Distinguished Oil Man and Sports Booster Award
- Water Safety and Preservation of Our Natural Resources Award
- American Academy of Achievement Golden Plate Award
Red actively supports several charitable organizations, especially those helping children, and was honored by an Oil Industry “Roast and Toast” sponsored by the Easter Seal Society. He participates generously by giving of both his time and financial assistance to the Muscular Dystrophy Association, the Arabian Temple Cripple Children and Burn Institute, the Leukemia Society of America, the Easter Seal Society, the Epilepsy Association and the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation.
Red sold Red Adair Company, Inc. in 1993 and then formed Adair Enterprises, Inc. for consulting, product endorsements and investing. But fighting fires is in Redıs blood, and he will always be active in the oilwell firefighting and blowout industry. He helped pioneer the industry, build it, expand it and make it the exciting, successful, competitive industry it is today.