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Game-changing innovation is not simply a product of wanting to be the best. It’s a product of seeking brilliant solutions to real-world problems, improving the lives of those who use them, and sometimes saving the lives and livelihoods of people who can’t imagine they’ll ever need to be saved.
That’s the kind of impact the Bambi Bucket, and its Bambi MAX system, have had on aerial firefighting organizations across North America and around the world.
Created and refined by SEI Industries in Delta, British Columbia, the Bambi Bucket was the world’s first collapsible firefighting bucket, made of a special lightweight, durable fabric and using a pilot-controlled valve to deliver a solid column of water or foam on target, every time.
The Bambi MAX improves upon that system, allowing pilots to release a load of water or foam as gradually as they want, rather than all in one shot. It’s a more efficient way of fighting wildfires, giving pilots the ability to douse multiple spot fires in a single flight, or to release a large volume of water to douse a larger blaze.
“You can open and close the valve an infinite number of times,” said Mark Toeckes, a product development engineer with SEI Industries who helped develop the Bambi MAX.
“It is slowly becoming the new industry standard.”
The Bambi MAX system uses a lightweight, tube-shaped valve inside a conventional Bambi Bucket and is controlled by a trigger switch built into a helicopter’s cyclic or collective, or used as a standalone apparatus in the cockpit.
Water streams out of the bucket in a solid column rather than a spray, a hallmark feature of the Bambi Bucket that helps set it apart from the competition. But with Bambi MAX the stream can be interrupted at any time, and operators can use it to optimize their load within the fuel cycle.
Early in the cycle, pilots can fill the bucket and use the Bambi MAX valve to release some of the load prior to takeoff, reducing the total weight. Later in the fuel cycle, pilots can re-fill the bucket and carry increasingly heavier loads, as fuel stores decrease.
Another key benefit of the Bambi MAX system is the ability to adjust payload according to flying conditions, carrying more water at sea level and less as an aircraft rises high into mountainous terrain.
“That is the greatest benefit of the MAX bucket, is the ability to have load control,” said Ryan Spilchen, regional sales manager for North America and Australia.
“The Bambi MAX is the most efficient, lightweight, unlimited multi-drop bucket ever made, as proven with the 300-plus sales throughout the North American market.”
While operators in the United States and Canada have embraced the Bambi MAX system since it hit the market in 2013, Bambi MAX is also ideal for firefighting in Europe.
The same load control that is perfect for dousing flames in the Rocky Mountains and open plains of Western Canada is perfect for extinguishing the kinds of wildfires that affected Italy, Croatia, Montenegro, France, Portugal, and other European countries this summer.
Some areas of Europe have smaller inland water sources than parts of North America, making it more difficult to fill a firefighting bucket. But the Bambi MAX system has a solution for that, too: the PowerFill Snorkel, which uses multiple pumps inside a Bambi Bucket to suck up water in low-lying areas.
“The European market is very diverse,” said Toeckes. “But in areas where you have poor water supplies–say, for example, Spain–where you might not have a lot of water, you want to be as efficient with the water that you have.”
PowerFill is one of the most sought-after accessories to the Bambi Bucket product line, especially in places where rivers, creeks, streambeds, and alpine meadows are shallow. The system can draw water from sources as low as 46 centimeters (18 inches), gathering liquid at a rate of 1,700 liters (450 U.S. gallons) per minute.
PowerFill can be installed in the field, by one person, in a matter of minutes, and is available in Bambi Bucket and Bambi MAX models ranging between 900 and 2,000 liters. It is also retrofittable to existing Bambi Buckets.
The same innovative spirit that produced the Bambi Bucket, Bambi MAX and PowerFill Snorkel is also being used to improve those products now that they are on the market. Engineers at SEI Industries are constantly taking input from customers and using it to refine the design and functionality of their products.
“You’re not just trying to sell them [the product] and walk away,” said Toeckes. “It’s important to keep that product constantly on the go.”
“We have customers that we’ve had for 25 years, and we obviously attempt to maintain that,” he added. “We want to keep them as a customer and keep supplying new versions that are compatible with older versions as well.”
As for the Bambi MAX, it’s a sign of where the aerial firefighting industry is going, dramatically increasing efficiency and effectiveness. Operators who use it rarely go back to other products.