The very first Bambi Bucket was introduced back in 1982, and since then it’s become well-known in aerial firefighting operations around the world. Mark Tayler — general manager at manufacturer SEI Industries — says the bucket’s popularity is thanks to the company’s innovation. “It’s been a process of continuous evolution,” he told Vertical magazine.
The giant flexible bucket made from SEI’s iconic orange material was the breakthrough product in early development of helicopter-slung water loads. “The early tanks were bulky and rigid,” said Tayler, “and had to be either moved to the site of the fire by road, or flown there under the helicopter, and they weren’t reliable.” He said what they needed was a way that the tank could be transported to the site inside the helicopter, and then used to drop water reliably.
In 1978 Canadian inventor Don Arney and his partner Mark McCooey started a company named after their founding principles: science, engineering, and innovation. While testing underwater airbags by suspending them filled with water, Arney wondered if something similar might be used as a firefighting bucket. Arney built a prototype in his garage and repeatedly tested it — there’s even an archive photo of him testing the damage resistance of the original design by whacking a filled and suspended bucket with a woodcutting axe. While still rigorous, the SEI’s testing methods are now somewhat more sophisticated.
Firefighting customers can choose from numerous custom options when purchasing Bambi Buckets. They range in size from 72 to 9,800 gallons (2,70 to 9,800 liters), which at the top end is just under ten tons of water, about as much as some airport fire trucks. Then there are options to add pumps that allow the bucket to be filled without submerging it, fire suppressing foam injection systems, and even floatation devices in case the bucket must be jettisoned in the water.
Since its entry into production 40 years ago, the Bambi Bucket has been used in over 100 countries and slung under a wide variety of aircraft, from light helicopters to the heavy Chinooks. Congratulations to SEI for hitting its 40th anniversary!