Monday, August 09, 2004

One Hero Michael Moore Never Knew

Hero n.
1: a man distinguished by exceptional courage and nobility and strength.
Source: WordNet ® 2.0, © 2003 Princeton University

This past weekend, America lost a hero. A real one, the kind that are always hard to find, yet somehow when you most need them, they somehow always show up. That would suggest a benevolent deity to me, but I will leave that for another time. Paul N. “Red” Adair was born June 18, 1915 in Houston, Texas. He died at his Houston home Saturday, August 7, 2004. In between, he and his company put out over 2,000 oil well fires, often after other teams had given up hope. After the first Gulf War, Red and his men put out fires in 117 wells in Kuwait. Red’s proudest accomplishment was that he never lost a man to a fire. Not once.

These days, anyone involved in oil is presumed to be greedy, self-centered, and reckless. Red was none of these, and frankly, very few men who worked the rigs, who built and maintained refineries, who knew oil from real work in the field, ever fit that description. I know; my father was a Petro-Chemical engineer, and Red Adair was typical of the character of those men, although Red excelled in his accomplishments. The shrill cry against oil men always comes from those who have never worked the stuff close at hand, or who have any idea what it takes to find it, drill it, get it refined and delivered for your use and convenience. At Red Adair’s bio site , you can read about his early life and work, but it’s truly amazing when you discover the scope of his advancement of the science of fighting fires. Red created submersible firefighting vehicles, fireboats, new techniques for automatic shutdown systems in the event of a fire. The key there, is that Red often shared his innovations with the industry, because he knew it would save lives, and he prized that above money every time.
Among Red's and Red Adair Company's historic firsts were extinguishing an 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.

Red had his share of fame. In 1968, legendary actor John Wayne portrayed Adair in the film, “Hellfighters”, which based on Red’s work nickname. It was the only movie in which John Wayne played the part of a real, living person. Adair received congratulatory letters from Presidents Johnson, Carter, and GHW Bush. Red also distinguished himself by his donations of time and money to the Easter Seal Society, the Muscular Dystrophy Association, the Arabian Temple Crippled Children and Burn Institute, the Leukemia Society of America, the Epilepsy Association, and the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation.

Earlier this year, Adair gave an interview to NBC. His outlook on his work and priorities can be summed up by three quotes from that interview.

When asked about his philosophy when planning an operation, Red said “I wouldn’t jeopardize my men for any oilfields.”

When he was asked if he was still interested in his field of work, Red said “I keep track of what’s going on. You hear about these things and you always think you can do something. You want to help.”

When specifically asked if he might start fighting oil well fires again, Adair explained, “I’d have to convince my wife to let me go first. She says, no way—that I’ve done enough of that in my lifetime.”

Red was the real deal. The next time you tank up, you might think better about the men who work hard to bring you gasoline for your car, your heating fuel, or any number of petroleum by-products. Some just work their butts off to do that, some risk their butts to get the job done.

Red would appreciate it. Come to think of it, so would my dad.

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