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The original trailer of Hellfighters(IMDB) claims that there were "only three people" fighting oil fires this way when it came out in 1968.

As far as I realize, John Wayne's character is loosely based on Red Adair who spectacularly blew out a fire this way in 1962 and got world fame. Yet, the claim of that only three people would use the Munroe effect of a shaped charge to blow out fires sounds outlandish. A large part of this is that the other two consultants on technical things to the film besides Red Adair were his direct employees: Asger "Boots" Hansen and Ed "Coots" Matthews, both of which were part of his crew when he blew out the spectacular fire in '62.

Is that claim of only three men knowing how to do this actually accurate or is it a deliberate underestimation to try and make the film more exciting?

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2 Answers 2

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3 is not exactly accurate, but the number was relatively low:

First of all, besides Paul Neal "Red" Adair, Asger "Boots" Hansen, and Ed "Coots" Matthews, who made up the core part of the Red Adair Wild Well Control Company at the time, Myron Macy Kinley not only pioneered quite much of the method they used, but also was the trainer that taught the groundwork to the Red Adair crew. He owned the MM Kinley Company, and employed his brother Floyd Kinley as a firefighter until his death in an accident in 1935. He reduced some of the fieldwork around 1945 when he was seriously injured in a firefighting exploit. His son - trained by him - took over the management of part of the company and he became the main trainer, hiring Paul Neal "Red" Adair and training the rest of the crew. By 1950 he retired for a time, but returned to active work till 1960 when he finished his career after a job in Japan and only did lecturing after that. Almost all oil well fire fighting companies can trace their knowledge to him.

Second, Myron Macy Kinley wasn't the first adult to do this either: he learned the trade from his own father, Karl T. Kinley, who used to do explosives work in oil drilling operations around 1910. He is usually credited with inventing the method of snuffing oil well fires with Dynamite, after he inserted sticks of Dynamite into the flame of an oil well fire in 1913 assisted by his 15-year-old son and working together with a man called Floyd Alexander. This technically makes the three people have the joint first on the method. Using sticks of dynamite to puff out fires had become a popular method to fight these fires after that.

Third, Jack Kinley did manage MM Kinley starting in 1945 and bought most company assets from his father in 1951. He rebranded the company as J. C. Kinley Company. The company made specialized equipment for digging operations for the most part. That branch of the company still seems to exist, as they filed for a trademark in 1960 and kept it alive since.

And then there is even video evidence of the Red Adair crew working on the spectacular Devil's Cigarette Lighter, filmed by Red Adair as promotional material. Besides Red, Boots, and Coots - all wearing red overalls and helmets - dozens of other crew in grey overalls and white helmets as well as one safety engineer in blue overalls and marked helmet worked on that particular fire. In that film, you see at minute 14 that there are 4 or 5 men in red suits and gear working on preparing the charge, their color denoting them as men of the Red Adair company. Of them, four people are named my Mr. Adair when the charge is readied to use: Himself, Boots, Coots, and (Charlie) Tolar.

Conclusion

The number of 3 firefighters is a claim that is clearly underestimating the real number of oil well firefighters that would be able to plan to do the deed.

There were at least 2 whole companies in the business around '68, Kinley and Red Adair, and enough trained personnel or people in training so that in 1978 Boots and Coots could be founded - and both companies had the manpower to tirelessly work during the 1990/1991 gulf war to put out oil fields.

The absolute minimum of personnel that in 1968 would have been able to blow out a burning oil well would thus be two teams, one of them consisting of at least four named people, but more likely the actual number of able company would have been in the two-digit range. Of the 9 individual people I could identify that had learned the trade of firefighting with explosives, 5 were still alive, and 4 in business - the Red Adair crew.

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The movie trailer is simply creating drama when it says "there are only three men" who are able to do this.

As noted the movie is based on the life of Paul Neil "Red" Adair. He got his start as an oil well firefighter working for Myron M Kinley. It was Kinley's father and Floyd Alexander who pioneered using explosives to fight oil well fires.

Kinley Started his own company with others and after a few mergers and partners leaving he renamed it the M.M. Kinley Company in 1926. His son took over the company and renamed it the J. C. Kinley Company in 1951. This company was still in business when Hellfighters came out.

So there was at least one other company doing this which means the claim in the trailer isn't true.

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