Oklahoma City fire officials: Fire stations are not public shelters

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OKLAHOMA CITY - Fire officials in Oklahoma City say they have been flooded with phone calls from citizens asking about seeking shelter from Mother Nature.

Authorities say fire stations are not public shelters and should not be considered a place to go in case severe weather strikes.

Officials say they do not want residents to get in their car to try to find shelter.

"Vehicles are NEVER a safe place during significant severe weather events. A significant number of tornado related deaths are attributed to being in a vehicle . On the other hand, standard residential construction (manufactured housing excluded) typically provides survivable protection for 98 percent of the tornados we experience in Oklahoma," the Oklahoma City website reads.

Experts say many public shelters have a relatively small capacity, so city officials do not want residents to go to a shelter only to be turned away.

"Many jurisdictions have determined that the risks and liabilities associated with providing and operating public storm shelters out-weigh the potential benefit," the website read.

Fire officials at Station 7 say they do not even have a built in safe room.

Instead, firefighters take shelter in their bunk rooms.

"There's not enough room here for a lot of people. You know, you never know how many would show up," Mike Paschal, the district chief, said.

Also, if firefighters had to respond to an emergency, residents would have to leave.

"We're not allowed to leave civilians here unattended by firefighters for several reasons. One, their safety which is always our primary concern, but another one would be the fact that there are things in the fire station that could cause them to have access to private information," he said.

Fire officials say well constructed residential safe rooms offer the best protection, and timing is key.

"Don't wait until the tornado's baring down on you to decide to load up and take shelter. Make sure they got room for you and get there ahead of time," he said. "That's the critical deal, you need to be in place ready when things start to go bad."