John "Axe" Adcox is the secondary antagonist in the 1991 film Backdraft. He is the friend - turned - enemy of both Lieutenant Stephen McCaffrey and Brian McCaffrey, who are both brother firefighters in the Chicago Fire Department.
John is a firefighter who works at Chicago Fire Department Station 17 and has had a long and successful career in firefighting and works with Stephen and Brian McCaffrey.
In 1971, John was a probationary firefighter who worked with Captain Dennis McCaffrey, the father of the two brothers. Both firefighters worked hard doing what firefighters do best - fight fires and save lives. That was until a call came in at 1545 Idyllwild. A fire broke out at a two story building and the fire wasn't that bad until a gas line exploded and killed Dennis while he was doing his job and saving John's life at the same time. After Dennis' untimely death, John and the other firefighters who worked with Dennis took care of Stephen and Brian and made sure the two brothers were brave enough to face life without their father and be talented at firefighting.
Later in the film, a series of arson fires break out and kill three victims in backdrafts. The victims are three men who worked for a corrupt politician (and the main antagonist) named Martin Swayzak. The first victim, Alan Seagrave was blown back by a backdraft and went through the windshield of his own car. The second backdraft victim was Donald Cosgrove, who was also killed in a backdraft after opening a theater door. At a high rise fire, a building owner named Jeffrey Holcomb was killed in an office door backdraft before another firefighter, Tim Krizminski got caught in the same backdraft Holcomb was caught in while waiting for Tim to take him out. Later, John tries to kill Swayzak, unfortunately John gets burned by a sparking electrical outlet, but survives. Brian visits Ronald Bartel, the imprisoned arsonist who was turned down by parole earlier in the film and talks about who could have been setting the fires and how they were started. Brian finds out that it may be his older brother, Stephen.
Brian stops by Stephen's boat, because John gave him some chemicals that the department was apparently "throwing out" and Brian notices that trychtichlorate (a fictional chemical substance) is labeled on the cans. Brian then goes to Station 17, where he, Stephen and John work. Brian, still suspicious that Stephen was behind the fires looks in Stephen's locker and he finds nothing but pictures and clothes. Then, Brian notices John combing his hair and has a towel on his left shoulder. Brian notices an outlet burn mark and finds out that it was indeed their friend.
A call comes in for a chemical fire. Stephen asks if it was Adcox. When Brian hears Stephen's question, he asks Stephen if he was aware that their friend was the person who was started the arson fires. Stephen denies it. Another firefighter interrupts Stephen by telling him about the call that came in. Stephen says to Brian that he will handle confronting John since he's his Lieutenant. Brian then asks Stephen if he helped John set up the backdrafts. Stephen denies any wrongdoing like he did earlier.
John explains to Stephen why he killed Swayzak's henchmen, he tells both Stephen and Brian (who are both disappointed in their friend) that he was doing it to keep the department safe from harm. John also explains that he started the fire that got Tim hurt (which he didn't mean to have happen). The roof gives way and Brian runs off. Then, a gas pipe explodes sending Brian down into an elevator shaft filled with water and is cut off by fire. Luckily, Stephen arrives just in time to shut off the valve. After that, Stephen and Brian make their way out of the elevator shaft in order to find their friend-turned-enemy. John pops up out of nowhere and hurts Brian after he was found out about the fires. John gets cornered by Stephen on a catwalk and then admits to Stephen, "I just couldn't let it go, Bull." Stephen then replies, "Yeah!" John then bursts into tears after realizing that his hate crimes were inappropriate. After showing deep remorse, barrels of dangerous chemicals blast up causing the catwalk that Stephen and John are on to give way. After the partial collapse, Stephen and John hang on to each other in mid-air. John gets burned and pleads for Stephen to let him go. Stephen replies "You go! We go!" Stephen lets him go. John than plunges into the fiery abyss and gets burned to death while Stephen gets a massive cut on his lower to mid chest after hitting a metal railing and two other firefighters take the injured Lieutenant to an ambulance.
Stephen tells Brian to not reveal that John was behind the arson fires. Brian promises. Stephen then dies due to high blood loss as a result of the injury. The next day, the department holds a funeral for John and Stephen.
|“||(Dennis McCaffrey: Whaddya got there, Adcox? A big deal?) Medium deal, Captain.||„|
|~ John Adcox - first words|
|“||Well Baby McCaffrey, hiya doin'?||„|
|~ John Adcox|
|“||Let's take it from the side, Bull!"||„|
|~ John Adcox|
|“||I should've told you. I should've let you in on it, (Brian: Let him in on what, John? Murder?) let you in on it before Swayzak and those a**holes were closing firehouses. They were getting our friends killed for money. I had to, Stephen. I had to do it for the department and the family. (Brian: Did you it for Tim, John?) That was an accident! (Stephen: Did you start that fire?) Jesus Christ! Why'd you have to go in there so f*ckin' early? (Stephen: That's why you wanted me to wait!) Let me finish! Swayzak (Brian: No, John! It's over) You shut up! Your Dad would f*ckin' puke if he saw how you sh*t on his department! (Brian: What would he say about you were doing, John?) Your dad died saving my life, died saving my life and these people were killing firemen for money. (Stephen: Swayzak) He killed our friends for money. What the f*ck would you do?||„|
|~ John Adcox|
|“||(regretfully) I just couldn't let it go, Bull. (Stephen: Yeah.)||„|
|~ John Adcox|
|“||Let me go, Bull! - last words before his death||„|
|~ John Adcox|
- Scott Glenn and the other actors who starred in Backdraft went out on real fire calls with Chicago Fire Department Squad 5 in order to do research for making the film.
- Scott Glenn wore 3 pairs of Nomex long underwear when he was set on fire in the chemical warehouse. The fire was so intense that the last layer in the underwear burned and he yelled "Cut!" in order for the crew to put out the fire.
- In 1994, Scott Glenn was a guest host for a fire safety training program called If A Tree Falls which talked about looking out for breaking trees in forest fires and how to prevent falling victim to a falling tree.
- In 1998, Scott Glenn would star in another film about firefighters called Firestorm as Wynt Perkins, an ex-wildland firefighter turned arsonist, who also explains why he started a fire.
- In 2001 (10 years after Backdraft came out), Scott Glenn narrated a History Channel documentary on the Storm King Mountain Fire of 1994 titled Fire On The Mountain.
- Scott Glenn stated in a 2006 interview on the Backdraft 15th Anniversary Edition DVD that he and Kurt Russell are real life friends and that when either he or Kurt got fire on them, either actor would call out their name to tell them to extinguish the fire on the clothes.