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John "Axe" Adcox is the secondary antagonist in the 1991 film Backdraft. He is the friend of both Lieutenant Stephen McCaffrey and Brian McCaffrey, who are both brother firefighters in the Chicago Fire Department.

He was portrayed by Scott Glenn, who also played J.P. Stiles in Tall Tale, Roger in Training Day and Wes in Urban Cowboy.


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 was never 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 the parole board earlier in the film and talks about who could have been setting the fires and how they were started. Brian finds out that the arsonist 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. John then puts the towel on his right shoulder and Brian notices an outlet burn scar 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. Grindle, another one of Stephen's firefighting colleagues 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. Brian later sees John eavesdropping on their conversation and is about to tell Stephen that John had heard everything. Brian then runs to jump on Engine 17 to confront their former friend, but Engine 17 zooms away and Brian grabs his gear and jumps onto Truck 46 since that was the only fire truck left in the firehouse. While Truck 46 responds, a taxi pulls out in front of them. Truck 46 then tips on its side and all of the members survive the accident even Brian, who rode along. Brian then goes to the fire on foot and asks several firefighters where 17 is. Two firefighters reply in unison with "I don't know." Brian asks another firefighter about 17’s whereabouts and the firefighter tells Brian that 17's members are on the roof, Brian then climbs up an aerial ladder and finds Stephen confronting John.

John than tells both Stephen and Brian (who are both disappointed in their friend) that he killed Swyazak's henchmen 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 and goes to a stairwell. Before Brian can go any further, 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 former friend. Stephen tells Brian to not step any further. Then, 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!" Brian regains consciousness. John then bursts into tears after realizing that his hate crimes were inappropriate. Later, 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's hand gives out and they both fall. John 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 to not make the revelation. Stephen then dies due to high blood loss as a result of his injuries. A funeral is then held for Stephen and John.


(Dennis McCaffrey: Whaddya got there, Adcox? A big deal?) Medium deal, Captain."
~ John Adcox to Captain Dennis McCaffrey
Well Baby McCaffrey, hiya doin'?
~ John Adcox
(seeing a car parked in front of a fire hydrant) Uhhh....These moments do try me."
~ John Adcox
Let's take it from the side, Bull!"
~ John Adcox
It's gonna flash on us, Bull. We gotta back out!"
~ John Adcox
Grab the line! Grab the goddamn line!"
~ John Adcox
(After finding out about lack of backup) Shit!"
~ John Adcox
C'mon, Brian! You got old man's ass!"
~ John Adcox
Jesus, Stevie, you never know when to quit, do you? Do you ever wonder why you're stuck at fucking lieutenant for life?"
~ John Adcox
~ John Adcox
Don't go splitting us up again, man! It ain't safe."
~ John Adcox
Let me take the lead, Stephen!"
~ John Adcox
(when Tim is on fire) PUT IT OUT!!!"
~ John Adcox

(Brian: "How is he?") He's alive."
~ John Adcox
(Stephen: Don't tell me about the chance I'm taking.) You were costing me time. You didn't wait for back-up. You were wrong. (Stephen: "What the hell is your problem?")
~ John fighting with Stephen about Tim's accident
(Stephen: Jesus Christ, Axe!) You don't understand. My cousin, Sally used to work at Swayzak's office. She saw the files, Stephen. She saw what he did. (Stephen: You set me up with those chemicals on the boat for what? Jesus!) I'm tryin' to explain. (Brian: Stephen!) You back off! (Stephen: Axe!) Somebody had to stop these pricks, Stephen. (Stephen: What were you thinking?! You don't burn people! You're a fireman!) Well, when Sally showed me what was in Swayzak's files (Brian: You saw Swayzak's files?) 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 assholes 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 fuckin' 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 fuckin' puke if he saw how you shit 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 fuck would you do?"
~ John Adcox after being found out by Brian and Stephen
(regretfully) I just couldn't let it go, Bull. (Stephen: Yeah.)"
~ John Adcox
Let me go, Bull!" - last words before his death
~ John Adcox



Backdraft clip (1991)

Backdraft clip (1991)


  • 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 three pairs of Nomex long underwear when he was set on fire by the crew members in the chemical warehouse. The fire was so intense that the last layer in the underwear burned away 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, 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.
  • For the death scene, a dummy was set on fire in order to make his character look like John was plunging to death.
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