A naive estimate of one gallon bucket a second is 60 gal/min for a well staffed and equipped line, but is there any data on how much water can be moved by bucket in less than ideal conditions?

Specifically how much the number of people per distance effects the speed.

1 Answer 1


From what we know of back when a bucket brigades were the fire fighting method of choice,

Before the mid-1800s, the most common way of fighting fires in the nations cities and towns was the bucket brigade, made up of volunteers. When a fire was spotted, the cry of "throw out your buckets" would be sounded, and a bucket brigade would be formed, two lines of people stretching from the town well to the fire to deliver as much as sixty gallons of water per minute.


A colonial fire bucket holds approximately 3 gallons of water and weighs 25 pounds when filled. A human bucket brigade working at top speed would struggle to deliver 100 gallons of water per minute.


At the same time, I would say that the people back then had practice doing this, and most people today would not. Over longer distances I would expect the speed to decrease, simply because there are more moving parts to slow it down and you can only go as fast as the slowest person.

On other thing, I was part of moving several hundred pounds of copier paper down one flight of stairs by passing them from person to person, and the other big limiter is the speed of the people on the ends of the chain.

  • This is inline with what I was thinking, but the part I am really interested in is some kind of quantified rule of thumb (well really science, but I'm not holding my breath) for the final qualitative description.
    – user8348
    Commented May 14, 2018 at 16:04

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