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Oil Well Fire Specialist  What They Do

Just the Facts


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dotOil well fire specialists deal with one of the most dangerous types of fires out there -- oil well fires. These professionals gained a lot of attention during the Gulf War, when more than 500 oil wells were set on fire in Kuwait.

It's a dangerous job, often requiring specialists to work around the clock. They risk their lives to control fires and blowouts (build-ups of pressure inside oil wells).

Blowouts are caused when the pressure within the oil well is greater than the pressure in the ground around the oil formation.

Blowouts are usually controlled by pumping large volumes of heavy mud down the drilling hole to re-balance the pressure in the rig.

dotMost oil well fires begin as blowouts. With gas and oil spraying everywhere, it only takes a small spark to ignite an oil well.

An oil well fire specialist's job is to show up and try and bring the blowout's pressure under control. If a fire has already started, they fight to contain the fire.

dotWhen an oil fire rages, temperatures around the well can reach incredible heights. It gets so hot that the dashboards of cars parked 500 feet away can melt.

"The heat can barbecue a person in seconds," says Ali Asad. He is an oil well fire specialist from Kuwait. He was on site for the biggest oil well fire of the Gulf War.

dotOil well fire specialists have to go in and try to contain the fire. In addition to special clothing and breathing equipment, specialists use sheets of metal as shields against the heat.

They also have to contend with a poisonous gas called hydrogen sulphide, which escapes from an oil well under pressure.

dotOil well fire specialists have to be physically fit in order to handle the equipment and long hours the job sometimes requires. It can mean spending two days straight soaked to the skin with mud and sweat.

"I worked on a drilling rig for four or five years. It's brutal work and you have to be physically fit and hard-working," says Shane Cote. He suggests lots of oil field experience if you're interested.

dotThere are very few, if any, women doing this kind of work. "I have never heard of any woman, never read about any woman working as an oil well firefighter. That doesn't mean there aren't any, but I wouldn't be surprised if there weren't," says Terese Floren. She is the executive director of Women in the Fire Service.

She doesn't think it's because of the danger or the need for great strength that is deterring women from the field.

"We have women in regular firefighting fields who are taking enormous risks. They fight raging fires after hurricanes, earthquakes and other major disasters where the danger factor is high."

dotFloren thinks that because petroleum and oil well control companies are privately run, they are not governed by the same equal-opportunity requirements as publicly run fire departments.

Sharon McCoy is a manager with an oil well control and emergency response company. She says most people get into fighting well fires after years of working on the rigs, which employ few women.

dotMost oil well fire specialists work on staff for petroleum producers, with private emergency response companies or as consultants, where they're called on as needed.

Companies are focusing more and more on safety as government regulations become stiffer.

At a Glance

Prevent and battle oil well fires

  • These professionals gained a lot of attention during the Gulf War
  • Temperatures around the well can reach incredible heights
  • On-the-job training is a must and certification is available