It goes without saying that no safe is truly fireproof — each has their limit and with various construction designs, some are better than others. Fireproof gun safes are nothing without a good construction. It is important to understand that there are no official standards for manufacturers of gun safes, so “fireproof” is an arbitrary statement that manufacturers can use at their discretion, as well as their own ratings that they create.
Some manufacturers offer “fireproof” safes that are mediocre at best at fire protection — for example, you may be surprised to know that to save money, most manufacturers use gypsum drywall (sheetrock) as fire lining and call it “fireproof,” allowing them to charge a premium for it. The risks to firearms caused by drywall is due to the chemicals and steam that it lets off during a fire, which can make having a fireproof gun safe of this type, counter productive.
This makes it important to ask questions about fireproof safes first, inquiring about their construction, before purchasing.
What to Keep (and not keep) in Your Fireproof Gun Safe
Many gun owners keep not only their guns in a safe, but their ammunition, and often, important valuables. While it is wise to keep your firearm in your safe for obvious reasons, you may want to think twice before stocking your ammo in your fireproof gun safe. This is because it may actually be safer to leave the ammo out of the safe and separate from your guns.
Different ammunitions will burn up at different temperatures in case of a fire. While your ammo’s cartridge is the heaviest part of the bullet, it will not go very far if it burns up in a fire, but the shell casing will still explode and send shrapnel sailing, which can damage valuables and weapons within your safe.
Also, smokeless powders in modern cartridges burn cleanly, but when cooked like so in a fire, the gunpowder will create smoke and chemicals up to 15 times its original volume. This is thousands of degrees Fahrenheit burning near your firearms and valuables in your safe.
In addition, these gasses expand and push the good air out of the safe, while contracting and drawing in hot smoke and gasses from outside of the case back in, further damaging the contents and creating a hot box for your ammo.
Therefore, it is best to keep your firearm and valuables in your fireproof safe, separate from your ammunition, as the ammo itself can be more of a danger inside of the safe than out, even in a fire. The same goes for flammables such as gun cleaners, lubrication, oils, solvents, and other items.
For those who keep their firearms loaded in their gun safe, think of this: while the chambered rounds will be last to cook off during a fire, while within a fire safe, this is still dangerous. Once the fire has destroyed the home, the barrel may very well be heated enough to fire the bullet. Family members and firefighters are most likely to be around the container salvaging belongings or putting out the rest of the fire. Most safes cannot withstand a bullet from a rifle, handgun, or other firearm.
Real Fire Safe Construction
The vast majority of true fire safes use fully welded inner and outer steel with poured concrete amalgamate fireproofing in between. During the construction of the safe, fireproofing is added and baked, and allowed to harden.
For fire safe concrete amalgamates, materials used such as fiberglass, vermiculite, and perlite are mixed into the fireproofing. These materials are made to absorb heat during a fire and reduce the transmission of heat. Sometimes this weakens the concrete mixture (used for security), but manufacturers and buyers of fireproof safes must trade off security vs fireproofing at some point in order to meet their needs.
In conclusion, it is important to choose a fireproof safe that uses quality construction. No universal standard fire ratings exists for the fire and gun safe industry beyond that of the UL 72 rating. Many manufacturers do not have a hope of passing the UL 72 testings, so they do not bother with it.
To find a quality fire safe, make sure that the safe meets UL 72 testing, and that it is a true fire safe, using the construction seen above.
In addition to a quality construction, one must also be proactive in what items they keep in their fireproof gun safe. Keeping ammunition out of the fireproof gun safe is your best bet for keeping the contents and the integrity of valuables intact.