Oil 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.
Most 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
When 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
"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.
Oil 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.
Oil 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.
There 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."
Floren 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.
Most 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
Prevent and battle oil well fires
Watch a one-minute video showing what it's like to work in this career or related careers
Note: This movie requires QuickTime.