The Historian of Fire Buckets

The Historian of Fire Buckets




Fire buckets–one of the great innovations of fire suppression technology, and one that today is largely out of use. Foam extinguishers and other more modern method of fighting oil fires have become the standard, and the quaint red buckets of sand from yesteryear have become for the most part a thing of the past. But one artist is fighting to ensure that the past remains remarkably present.

The fire bucket used to be a regular fixture in homes, businesses, public spaces, or literally anywhere where the risk of oil fires existed. With their cheerful, bright turn up and their ubiquitous sand, buckets passed hand to hand were the first line of defense against fires that couldn’t be fought by water, fires that water would only spread. And already if the fire was of the standard variety, buckets could be used to bring water to the source of the problem to keep up the situation together until the fire crew and their hoses could arrive.

Stephen Lalioff is aware of the history of these buckets. Lalioff, a leatherworker who specializes in historical restoration, has devoted a large part of his career to painstakingly recreating the leather buckets commonly used to fight fires from the sixteenth to the nineteenth century. These buckets weren’t merely tools to be shoved into the corner until disaster broke out. They were living pieces of folk art, etched with family crests, Latin mottoes, faces, or inscriptions about the public good. They were made by hand, usually by families, and passed down from generation to generation. They were traditions–traditions that Lalioff strives to keep alive today.

Lalioff’s buckets aren’t merely of interest to nostalgia fanatics or historians. He does a brisk business in film props, providing directors and actors with the tools they need to effectively recreate the emotional turn up of yesteryear. Lalioff’s products are lifelike. More to the point, they are living works: they could be used to fight a fire tomorrow, if necessary. But for the most part, they’re content to appear in the edge of the shot in dramas from the nineteenth century or before, their careful eagles and detailing work providing a sense of reality and history to already the most pedestrian period piece.

It’s to be assumed that Lalioff takes commissions. These buckets wouldn’t be much good if it came to meeting building codes, or effectively fighting grease fires on a large extent. They’re sixteenth century technology, and they have a sixteenth century level of utility. The strength of Lalioff’s buckets isn’t, paradoxically, their strength at stopping dangerous blazes.

The strength of these buckets is a quieter strength: the strength of understanding tradition, appreciating a bygone age of craftsmanship and family industry. The buckets are a silent protest against an age of plastic and mass production–necessary for efficiency and safety, but sometimes not thoroughly fulfilling to the soul. And it’s the soul for which Lalioff, the historian of fire buckets, is pledged to fight.




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