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Fire Protection Explained

A gun safe is for more than just guns. People use it to store any number of things, so it makes sense to want protection against fire. In fact, one of the top priorities people look for in a gun safe is fire protection. But what exactly does the fire rating on a safe mean? Is it completely fire proof? How much heat can it take? Will it protect everything in the safe? We'll answer these questions and a few more as we help you understand just what a Fire Rating means.


A good fire rating can mean the difference between this...


... and this.


An Overall View of Fire Protection

The main goal of fire protection is to keep the inside temperature of a safe as low as possible, for as long as possible. You'll see different ratings on different safes, ranging from 30 minutes to 2 1/2 hours and above, and depending on your specific needs you're going to want to find a safe that you'll feel secure with in terms of fire protection.


It's important to note that safe fire ratings aren't regulated by any government department or officially sanctioned laboratory, so each manufacturer comes up with their own tests to determine how their safe does. Some companies go the extra mile to put some weight behind their claims. For example, Liberty Safe bases their fire rating system off of the U.S. Department of Commerce National Institution of Standards and Technology (NIST) for a "full scale house fire".


Almost all gun safes are tested for house fires and not forest fires. A house fire burns at an average of 1100°F, and the tests a safe goes through are for this temperature range. A forest fire can burn well over 2000°F. While there are some gun safes that have survived a forest fire, those have been the exception rather than the rule.


How To Read A Fire Rating

The formula for a safe's fire rating is as follows: The safe can burn consistently at a certain temperature for a certain amount of time, to keep a safe's internal temperature at 350°F or under. We'll break down the specifics below.


BTUs: Fire tests are actually based on British Thermal Units (BTUs), but once that is determined, it's translated into temperature and time because that's easier and more useful information for you, the owner. For example, if a safe is tested to withstand 83,000 BTUs before it can no longer keep the internal temperature less than 350°F, that information can be translated to a consistent temperature of 1200°F for at least 60 minutes. Again, the important information for you the owner of the safe is how long and at what temperature can the safe last.


Temperature: There are a lot of variables, but the average temperature of a house fire is 1100°F. Most manufacturers out there translate their fire rating temperature to at least 1200°F, trying to account for hot spots in the house.


Time: Since the temperature usually takes the average heat of a house fire into account,the real important number is the time, or how long it will keep the temperature down. Starter safes almost always start at the 30 minute mark, and as more and more layers of fire board is added, the higher the alloted time is.


Here's an example of the temperature and time.


The 350°F Mark: The whole point of the safe's fire protection is to keep what's inside from getting too hot and burning up in a fire. The system is designed to keep things under 350°F. This will protect most things people put in their safe such as firearms, jewelry, paper, photos, etc. It's important to note two very specific things that won't be protected at this temperature: Ammo and Media.


• Ammo: While different ammo types have different tolerances, it's dicey to put it in with the other possessions you're trying to protect. If the ammo starts cooking off inside the safe, it can damage the other things inside with metal and smoke, and can even start an internal fire.

• Media: Media storage and devices (cameras, electronics, flash drives, CDs, etc.) are very sensitive to heat. If you're going to store them in the safe, we recommend putting them in a fire box or other fire protective container, and then storing that in the safe.


3 Main Factors Of Fire Protection

So, what actually goes into a gun safe to prevent the contents from going up in smoke? It takes 3 things.


• Steel Thickness & Welds: The steel thickness is the most straight forward. The thicker the steel, the longer it takes for the heat to get to the fire rated drywall inside.


How a safe is welded together also makes a big difference. If the fire gets hot enough, it can start to warp the steel, and the type of weld will determine how long the safe stays together before it starts developing cracks and gaps in the metal. Gaps will allow heat in, which could compromise the whole integrity of the fire system.


You want a continuous weld at least, which is a solid unbroken weld ran along the entire joint. You don't want a tack or spot weld, which is where they only weld at certain spots of the joint and leave unwelded points.


• Fire Rated Drywall: Gypsum board is what's typically used in gun safes, though there are two things that directly affect how well this works. First is how tight the fire board is installed together. The tighter the pieces fit together, the less heat can slip past them. The looser the gypsum is when installed in the safe, the more heat is going to pass through and render the whole idea futile. The second is the quality of the fire board. Quality can range from some Chinese drywall that frankly has been cited as a health hazard by the CDC because of certain compounds, all the way up to thicker drywall with an actual fire rating like the one Liberty Safe uses.


A lot of manufacturers will give you a diagram of their fire board configuration inside the door so you can see exactly how it's built.


A Fire Board diagram showing how the boards are installed.


• Door Seals: If a safe is claiming a fire rating, it has to have a way to seal the door. The door seal is usually Palusol strips that line the door frame. During a fire, when Palusol reaches 212°F it will expand up to 7 or 8 times its size, sealing up the door to keep out heat as well as smoke and soot.


So, How Much Fire Protection Do You Need?

Like a lot of things with fire protection, there are a lot of variables to consider, but here are some questions to help you determine just how much protection you need:


• Do you live in a rural area where, if you're away, it might take hours before a home fire is discovered?

• Do you live in a older home that doesn't have the benefits of improved, flame retardant building materials?

• Is your home heated with a fireplace or wood burning stove?

• Does your home have a sprinkler system installed in the room your safe is going?


Remember that just because you live close to a fire station doesn't mean they will respond immediately. They need time to get the call, get to the house, put the fire out and cool things off. Also, the nearest fire department could be out on another alarm.


Something else to consider is a basic question of just how important the contents of your safe are to you. A $1000 rifle can be replaced, but your grandfather's service weapon from the war can't. Losing your automobile ownership papers would be a headache, but losing your parents' wedding photos can be devastating.


If you'd like some help determining the overall protection you need from a safe (not just the fire protection), consider using our online quiz, which can help you see what security level you should be looking at. Click here to take the quiz.


The truth is, the safe you get and the fire rating you choose is going to depend on how concerned you are about fire. There are several fire rating levels out there, and they usually go up with the general security of the safe. While you may not need the highest fire protection out there, make sure you get the fire rating you need so the safe can do the job you bought it for.