Wednesday, August 25, 2004

A Man's Man

Somehow I missed the news of the passing of a real red-blooded American. Paul Neal ("Red") Adair, firefighter, died on August 7th, aged 89
(from The Economist-subscription required):

From the crater that was Kuwait City's airport, Mr Adair surveyed the scene. The horizon was filled with one continuous fire. At the core of the wells the temperature was 3,000°F, or about the heat needed to melt steel. On the ground, 50 feet away, it was still close to 1,000°. The fires were often not shooting up straight from the wellhead, but spewing out in all directions. Mr Adair and his men donned their overalls, discarded their plastic hats in favour of aluminium, and set about doing their job. "Red", by the way, was then 75.

In retrospect, Mr Adair--never wanting in confidence or cockiness where fires were concerned--thought Kuwait had been easy. "We put all the fires out with water, just went from one to the next." In fact, he reversed the flow in the oil pipes, pumping the nearest sea ("the Adriatic" as he blithely supposed) into the oilfields and saturating the ground with water before capping the wells. His 76th birthday found him joyfully moving the giant valves into position with a crane. In the end, he put out in nine months a conflagration that was expected to burn uncontrollably for three to five years.


I can still recall the awe-filled respect that I felt for Red as a kid, after watching a documentary chronicling his exploits. This guy put out some of the most dangerous fires in the world for a living. And he did it with bravado, creativity, and confidence that marked him as an American original. Today people talk about having a "can do" attitude or "gettin' 'er done". Red Adair did much more than talk. He did whatever had to be done to put out the fire, to finish the job. R.I.P.

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