Famed oil well firefighter "Boots" Hansen dead at 93
Pioneering oil well firefighter Asger “Boots” Hansen, Jr. passed quietly at his home in Fort Myers, FL on June 16, 2019 at age 93, according to an obituary posted by a Florida funeral home.
A native of Houston, TX, Hansen was the second of two children born to Asger and Mary (Kornmayer) Hansen. Soon after leaving school and having reached his seventeenth birthday, Hansen enlisted in the U.S. Navy at the height of WWII. Always in search of adventure, he volunteered for the submarine service, the most hazardous duty in the navy.
After training at Pearl Harbor, he was placed aboard U.S.S. Nautilus (SS-168), which had been given the dangerous assignment of carrying men and supplies from Australia to guerilla fighters in the Japanese-held Philippines. After the war, Hansen returned to Houston and joined his father in the sign painting business. On weekends he would hang out at the local stock car track, where he became a driver for famous oil well firefighter Red Adair.
Around 1949 Red hired Boots as his assistant and began to teach him the art of oil well firefighting and blowout control. Both men worked for Myron Kinley, who had pioneered the field in the years before the war. As the business grew, additional employees were hired, including Edward O. “Coots” Matthews.
Hansen was entering a career that afforded him ample opportunities to indulge his love of travel. Although most of his time was spent in the Texas/Louisiana region and the Middle East, his work took him from the tip of South America to the north slope of Alaska, and from the South Sea Islands of Indonesia to the frigid waters of the North Sea.
It was extremely dangerous work. In an uncontrolled well, oil and gas erupt from the ground under tremendous pressure and can ignite from something as small as a spark. Extinguishing such fires usually requires the use of high explosives. If something goes wrong, there is little chance of survival.
In 1959, with the retirement of Myron Kinley, Red Adair formed his own company, and joining him were Boots and Coots. The 1960s were the “glory days” for the men of the Red Adair Company. As wells were drilled deeper, pressures increased, and the blowouts and fires became more spectacular. Expanding worldwide news coverage meant the firefighters’ exploits were often seen on television or the feature pages of newspapers and magazines.
Away from the oil field, Boots and the others continued to pursue adventure. Both Boots and Red owned yachts and traveled extensively in the Gulf of Mexico. They also took up the sport of speedboat racing, and one of the drivers on their team was NASA astronaut Gordon Cooper. Boots learned to fly and purchased his own airplane.
Perhaps the highlight of their career was the 1968 motion picture “Hellfighters” starring John Wayne, based on the exploits of Red, Boots, and Coots. The trio, present for much of the filming, is prominently listed in the credits as “technical consultants.” Although the plot of the film and the required romance was typical Hollywood, the three firefighters made sure the depiction of the dangers and techniques were realistically portrayed.
The two younger firefighters left the Red Adair Company in 1977 to form their own firm, Boots and Coots, Inc. Because they had been performing most of the work for Red’s company and were well known in the oil industry, they soon became the leading well control company in the world.
Employees remembered Boots as a demanding, sometimes dictatorial boss, but one who was fair, generous, and concerned for their safety. He knew it was hard, dangerous work, and appreciated loyal, conscientious employees.
Although he never completed high school, Boots was a natural and gifted engineer, designing much of the specialized equipment used in their work. By 1990, both Boots and Coots were ready to retire. Unfortunately, world events got in the way. At the end of the First Gulf War, Saddam Hussein’s retreating Iraqi army ignited approximately seven hundred oil wells in Kuwait, creating the worst man-made environmental disaster in history.
The first company called into to extinguish those wells was Boots and Coots, and Boots was one of the first men on the scene to survey the damage. Although contracts were given to many well-control specialists, Boots and Coots put out more well fires than any other company. It was a spectacular end to a long and storied career.
An avid yachtsman, Boots and his wife Beverly wanted to spend much of their free time on the water or in the Bahama Islands. Knowing that if they stayed in Houston it would be difficult to get completely away from the business, the couple purchased a waterfront home in Fort Myers Beach, FL. From there, a series of yachts, all named “Chandon,” travelled to and from the islands until declining health forced Boots to give up life on the water.
Hansen is survived by his wife Beverly, son Asger III (Ozzie), adopted daughter Kimberly, and granddaughters Taylor and Alicia. He is predeceased by his sister Mary Ellen and daughter Becky. Mr. Hansen requested that no services be held, and Mrs. Hansen has asked that those who wish to make a remembrance please donate to their local hospice in the name of Asger “Boots” Hansen.