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Leaders in Innovation

Don Arney and the Bambi Bucket

As National Wildfire Awareness Month is observed each May, the National Inventors Hall of Fame® (NIHF) encourages everyone to learn more about Hall of Famer Don Arney, who invented the Bambi Bucket®. This ingenious collapsible bucket has been used for aerial firefighting since it was introduced 40 years ago.


Following a Mindful Path

Toward Invention Born in 1947 in Prince Rupert, British Columbia, Canada, Arney has always followed his curiosity. “Early as I can remember, I was kind of a natural tinkerer,” Arney said in an interview with NIHF. “I was always curious how things worked, and I enjoyed taking things apart.”

Arney’s path toward the Bambi Bucket began at an underwater salvage and construction business in Vancouver. The owner, who was facing some challenges with his business, showed Arney an old and battered lift bag that had been used with cranes in underwater operations. Arney was intrigued. After doing some market research, he saw an opportunity to make an improved lift bag.

To test the new lift bags, Arney and his colleagues would bring them to a shipyard. As he watched 22,000 pounds of water being contained in a 60-pound bag, Arney started thinking about another possibility. “The initial idea for the Bambi Bucket really came out of looking at that lift bag hanging from the crane, thinking, how could I transform what I’m seeing there into a helicopter firefighting bucket,” said Arney.

Describing the process of invention as following a thread, Arney credits his daily practice of meditation with helping him to access deeper parts of the mind to discover and develop new ideas.

“I found that meditating is a completely nondirected process, and inventing has to be the same,” he explained. “ You know all of the things you’re going to be doing as you engage in the process, but you don’t direct it. What you find is that the answers are coming on a very profound level. And very quickly and innocently, the solution appears.”

This particular solution — a collapsible, lightweight bucket designed for use with helicopters — offered a cost-effective way to fight wildfires with both strength and precision.


Saving Lives by Mitigating Disasters

In 1978, Arney teamed up with Mark McCooey to found SEI Industries, which would introduce the first Bambi Bucket to firefighters in 1982.

Prior to this invention, firefighting water buckets used in helicopters were cumbersome. Too rigid to fit inside the aircraft, they were carried by a hook on the helicopter, which would slow the aircraft down. Additionally, the hookup and actuating mechanisms had high failure rates, and water dropped from these older buckets would disperse into a spray, reducing its ability to fight fires.

The revolutionary Bambi Bucket was the first fully collapsible aerial firefighting bucket. Available in a variety of sizes with capacities of about 72 to 2,600 gallons, this easy-to-maintain container can release water from underneath a helicopter to targeted areas. It can also be stowed within the helicopter until deployment, reducing drag.

The Bambi Bucket’s pilot-controlled valve requires minimal electrical power and can be instantly hooked up to any helicopter using a standard power plug. As the helicopter hovers in position, the device releases either water or fire retardant to extinguish or suppress a fire. The bottom-filling design also allows for faster, easier refilling, even in remote locations, as the helicopter hovers over a river, lake or other water source.

By releasing a concentrated column of water, the Bambi Bucket provides more accurate firefighting capabilities, with less evaporation on descent and greater impact force, which is crucial in stopping destructive and life-threatening wildfires.

Now a standard in aerial firefighting, SEI’s Bambi Buckets command more than 95% of the international market. They are used worldwide to help contain wildfires and were also used to cool the Fukushima nuclear site in Japan after the 2011 tsunami.


Discover More Inspiring Inventors

“Every person has innate abilities,” Arney shared in an interview preceding his Induction into NIHF. “Mine was seeing something that existed and then having a natural curiosity if it could be done a different way.”

For more stories of Hall of Famers whose curiosity led to innovations that have set standards, shaped industries and saved lives, we invite you to visit our blog.

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