Saturday, February 1, 2014

Porta-potties, a field guide

It's time to write about something important.  I'm talking porta-potties, people.

Many of you may rarely encounter such an item, or only do so for special events such as running races or concerts.  However, wildland firefighters are all too familiar with the porta-potty, also known as the blue room, porta-pooper, and many other delightful names.  They pop up at helibases, fire camps, and drop off points and are usually one of the first support items ordered (after lunches, that is).  Because of my years of experience with these portable restrooms, I thought a few tips were in order.  You're welcome.

1.  Not all porta-potties are created equal.  Some have hand sanitizer dispensers (look for these) and some even have mirrors, though why this is eludes me.  People who use these things usually work outside.  We wear hardhats and our faces are dirty. There's no water inside a porta-potty.  Why the mirror? Ugh!

2.  Don't designate a women's potty.  I tried this at one helibase, but then found that all the guys started using it under the assumption that it would be cleaner.  It soon wasn't.  Thanks guys.

3.  Don't use your cell phone in the porta-potty!  A lot of people do this for some reason. If you do, and drop your phone in, don't blame me.  It is fun, however, to call your buddy's phone when he goes in there and see if he answers.  If he does, say it's his parole officer on the landline.  Yes, we are all 12 years old.

4.  Don't place a porta-potty near the landing area of a Skycrane or other large helicopter (this also goes for anything that causes a large wind event, such as tornadoes).  Disaster!

5.  Don't linger downwind.  This seems obvious, but I have observed many a poor porta-potty placement where prevailing winds were not considered.  Also, it's common to rejoice when the porta-potty pumper guy shows up.  I hear you, but clear the area.  The noxious fumes emanating from that soon to be clean restroom are not soon forgotten.

6.  Don't date a porta-potty pumper guy.  Or wait, do, because they make a lot of money, I've heard.  Well, they should.  If you do decide to date one, don't observe him on the job.  A lot of them wear tank tops and shorts as they boldly go where most of us would never dare to tread.  Some don't even wear gloves.  Ewwww.

7.  Don't tape a porta-potty door shut when someone is in there.  This is called hazing.  It is not allowed.  Although, I have known people who had this happen to them, with mixed results.  One had her book, and she sat and peacefully read until the would-be pranksters, crestfallen at her lack of response, let her out.  Another guy had his knife, like all good firefighters should, and was able to slash his way out and take revenge.

8.  Ever wonder how events or businesses know how many to order?  There are formulas for that! You enter your data, such as number of attendees, duration of event, ratio of women to men (!), and if alcohol is to be served or not.  Who knew?  If there aren't enough, someone wasn't following the formula!

9.  Inspect your potty before using.  One on the end?  Probably used the most. Avoid!  Broken door latch?  Um, no.  Located near a large group of pilots? Maybe not the best choice (they like to eat).

10. Don't hate the porta-potty.  There might be someday when you might really need one.  There will be no woods available, no oblivious fast food restaurant staff who don't care if you just come in to use the restroom.  Then there it will be, looming in the distance like a beautiful blue mirage, to save the day, once again.

Image from here


  1. If you observe yellow snow in close proximity to one unit among several porta-pottys, avoid said unit--it may be leaking or have other unseen hazards. Always check for potty paper, or remember to bring your own.

  2. Heh, heh.., good one. It seems wildland fire managers have done a lot of thinking about porta potties. Who knew. Thanks for sharing!

  3. I have needed one. Oh man. Its not pretty I assure you.
    I just have to use a tissue (better if scented) to cover my nose and then go.
    Great post! :)

  4. Very useful information. Porta potty is an essential element for public events and for outdoor work site.

    Thanks for the post

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