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What Is a Bucket Brigade?

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  • Written By: J.M. Densing
  • Edited By: R. Halprin
  • Last Modified Date: 07 November 2016
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The term bucket brigade refers to a firefighting technique that involves passing water along a human chain to dowse a fire. This method was primarily used before the advent of mechanized firefighting apparatus and may still be utilized in some undeveloped areas of the world. In this technique, a person near a water source fills a bucket, which is then passed hand to hand until it reaches the last individual who throws it on the fire. The bucket brigade is also still used occasionally as an event in firefighting demonstrations and competitions. It can also be an effective method for transporting other types of materials in different situations, and the term is occasionally used to describe various types of volunteer efforts.

Prior to the development and widespread use of mechanized firefighting equipment, the bucket brigade was the most common method for fighting a fire. In some cities and towns, every household had a bucket; when there was a fire, a member of each family would report to the scene to help put it out. A bucket brigade often required many participants to successfully dowse the fire. Once equipment such as hose carts and hand pumpers were introduced, fires could be fought more efficiently with less manpower. These apparatus could put more water on the flames in less time.

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In some underdeveloped areas of the world lacking modern firefighting equipment, the bucket brigade technique may still be used. It functions in a manner that has been compared to an electron transport chain. People are stationed at intervals stretching from a water source to the fire and use buckets to transport the water; the water moves down the line, but the individuals remain stationary. The person nearest to the water source fills each bucket which is passed rapidly from one to the next until it reaches the end of the "human chain." The last individual throws the water on the fire, and then each empty bucket is passed back for refilling.

In most areas of the world, the bucket brigade is no longer in use as a firefighting technique, but the tradition is kept alive through inclusion in demonstrations and competitive events. Some fire departments participate in drill-type competitions, called tournaments or musters, with events which simulate firefighting scenarios, and bucket brigades are popular and easy to stage. The bucket brigade can also be used to transport items such as medical supplies or food in various situations such as in natural disaster relief efforts when roads are impassable. The term is also occasionally used to generically refer to community volunteer efforts involving a large number of people.

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