Gun Safe Buying Guide – Fire Protection Advanced

Burglars at the sight of a hefty elegant looking gun safe prefer staying away from it but what about fire? Nature never discriminates between the strong and the weak. It finds a way to wreck equal havoc on all. A fire attuned gun safe must have many critical considerations if it is to survive an accidental fire. While most fire resistant safes provide basic protection against accidental fire such as 1200 degree F for 30 minutes, only a few advanced models can withstand intentional accelerated fires for over 45 minutes. It all depends on how much you are willing to spend and what features it has.


To find out what kind of fire security you need for your gun safe, calculate the average response time of your local fire department. If it takes them more than 20 minutes to reach your house, then you need a vault capable of surviving at higher than 1200 degree F for more than 30 minutes. Here are couple of features I found useful in determining just how safe a gun vault is in any fire (other than the obvious laboratory ratings).

Advanced Features For Fire Protection

Fire Lining

ceramic woolThe fire rating provided by a safe manufacturer isn’t enough. There is also a fire liner protection that matters. Just as metal thickness plays a major role in keeping burglars at bay for longer, fire liner when used properly can keep fire out of the safe and items secure within. Usually, manufacturers rely on gypsum boards or sheetrock within the metal plates to insulate the safe and protect against fire. Some other more versatile and reliable mixtures for fire lining are vermiculite and cement mix, ceramic wool packing. It is not uncommon to find a separate lighter gauge steel layer packing a mixture of fire resistant material together within the safe’s outer walls.

Heat Expanding Seals

palusol Steel, in fact any material has the tendency to expand when it is heated to high temperatures. It is this property, which when properly exploited can help produce a secure seal along the hinges, openings and joints of a safe. Palusol is the standard currently used in the industry for heat expanding door seals used around the door frame. This material can grow to ten times its normal size when heated in a fire helping block out smoke and fire from leaking into the safe through the hinges, joints and slits.

A Case Study At Central Valley Arson School

During my time as an advisor to a local gun safe and gun shop, I came across a fire investigator by the name of Marvin Jacobs who, at the time, was an instructor at the Central Valley Arson School. This special school near Fresno, California trained firefighters with real time fires, started and perpetuated under controlled situations to mimic back drafts, additive and propellant infused fires and more. A home that is marked for demolition serves as the guinea pig for the school and those with maximum wood are chosen as the A-list of testing sites.

fire schoolBefore lighting the homes on fire, they furnish it as one would if it had been occupied. Marvin told me that they had tested a few safes by placing them in one such house and setting it on fire. Initially, they set the television set to burn for two minutes and tested trainees on their ability to douse easy fires, plus decipher the source. At the end of the day for a grand finale, they closed all doors, windows and punched holes in the roof, dousing the house in 30 gallons of kerosene and setting it ablaze. This accelerated burn helped the fire reach high temperatures quicker and as the entire house burnt down, they recorded something interesting.

Majority of the safes that were deemed to be fire safe either melted down entirely or were so severely damaged that prying them open revealed destroyed items. Marvin says, laboratory testing doesn’t always give a clear picture of how ‘safe’ a safe really is. He also commented that safes with advanced fire protection systems such as fire linings, thicker gauge steel, heat expanding seals actually survived the 30 minute inferno with severe external melting.

The Verdict

My point in sharing this piece of information with you is that don’t trust fire safety ratings from manufacturers. The ratings are under controlled laboratory conditions. What isn’t tested for is the radiant heat that emanates from a burning building long after the fire has been put out. Besides, heat trapped inside the safe can continue to simmer items within even when the safe is removed from the fire.

In short, invest into a tougher, longer surviving safe if you are really bothered about fires!

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