Safes, The Wrong ones are Worse than Useless


Recently it seems like there have been many burglaries in our area. In fact, one of our friends was a victim. In his case they stole a large gun safe that was located on the second floor. They got it downstairs and loaded it in a vehicle and got clean away. In this case, the safe was not properly anchored to the floor.

Because of my years as an arson and bomb investigator, I have seen many examples of safes failing in fires or being burgled prior to the fire. The majority of people did not have their valuables stored correctly. First many people tend to store important items high, often on the top shelve of their closets. Remember heat rises, a better option is to store them on the closet floor. The chances of them surviving are greatly increased.

I have seen people who lacked the resources to purchase a good safe improvise various methods to protect valuables. Often people put items in old refrigerators thinking that the metal will offer some protection. It never worked very well and with all the plastic in the newer refrigerators it almost always fails to protect against heat or flame.

The best homemade boxes I saw were made from plywood and Sheetrock. They consisted of two layers of 1 inch ply with a layer of 5/8 sheet rock in the middle. Make it as low to the floor as possible, think like a coffin, not upright. You need good hinges and the door must overlap at the sides. These made a somewhat fire and burglar resistant safe. Don’t forget to anchor them to the floor.

Safes, The Wrong ones are Worse than Useless

The problem with the cheaper safes is that they give you a false sense of security. But in reality do not provide real protection against fire or burglary. They often fail in fires and will not protect your valuables from a burglar.

The best choice for Fire and Burglar Resistant Safe is

Now the best possible solution is to spend some money on a good quality combination fire and burglar resistant safe. Modern safes, called “composite safes”, or (BF) burglar fire safes, have a combination of burglar and fire ratings. With these safes, you get fire and burglary protection. These cost a bit more, but depending on what you are storing, may be worth the additional cost. 

Fire Resistant Safes

They run from excellent to the ones I consider just a plain rip-off. The cheap ones that are sold in all the discount stores are just that cheap. Most of them are rated to keep the contents at below 350° F for 20 or 30 minutes. This is barely adequate to keep paper from igniting. It will not protect old tape recordings or 35 mm slides, they need to stay below 150° F.  Computer disks and DVDs are even more sensitive, they need to stay below 125° F and less than 85% humidity.  There should be a plaque located on the safe that shows its rating.  A good burglar can get into one of the cheaper Sentry safe faster than you can with the combination.

See also  Personal Safety While in Crowds or Traveling.

I recommend that you purchase a minimum of a 1-hour fire rated safe.  Why?  Safes with less than a 1 hour fire rating often don’t survive a home or business fire.  If you can’t afford a 1-hour fire rated fire safe, go for the longest fire protection that you can afford.  You can always buy one of the small inexpensive ones and stick it inside of a larger safe to provide additional protection of electronic media. 

Don’t rely on a fireproof safe to protect against a burglary.

A fire and burglary resistant safe

Fire resistant safes can do a great job of protecting paper documents from heat and smoke damage. However, fire resistant safes are normally constructed of very thin (16-18 gauge) metal which makes them venerable to attack.  The metal is primarily used to hold the fire retardant material and can be easily punctured, cut or sawed with simple hand tools.  A burglar resistant safe is constructed of much heavier metals and is resistant to attack with tools.

Many of the gun safes currently on the market are primarily burglary resistant.  But, be careful there are cheap ones on the market that provide neither good burglary nor fire resistance.  A good quality Gun safe should use a minimum of 12-gauge steel in the body of the safe and preferably 10 to 7 gauge steel.  The door should be made of at least ¼” of solid plate steel or composite equivalent.  Better quality gun safes have ½” or thicker steel.  Look for safes that have Underwriter Laboratory burglar ratings such as, RSC (Residential Security Container), B Rated, U.L. TL-15 (Tool Resistant) and U.L. TL-30.


Try to stay with a manual combination lock.  Electronic locks can be subject to damage from EMP. Your Gun Safe and the Hazards of Electronic Locks and EMP

Anchor your safe to the floor as strongly as possible.  With a good safe use the manufacturer’s recommendations as a minimum standard for anchoring the safe.  I know someone who has a safe in his garage and he set bollards in the floor to make it almost impossible for someone to use a vehicle to pull it out.

A floor safe is not good fire protection.

Floor safes offer burglary protection and some degree of fire protection if installed in concrete. Floor safes are great for gold, silver, coins, jewelry and other valuables which will not be damaged by water.  In a fire situation, they are often filled with water from the fire suppression which can damage important papers.

Why should you not use a wall safe?

Wall safes look great in James Bond movies and on TV.  They are always used to store large amounts of money in Hollywood movies.  The wall safes, I have encountered were small and are easy to conceal, but were lightly constructed and offered little protection to fire or burglary.

Whatever type of safe you choose, get the best you can afford and don’t forget to anchor it down well.   Many good safes have been stolen intact and taken somewhere else to be opened at the burglar’s leisure.  The best choice is one that is both a fire and burglar resistant safe.



3 thoughts on “Safes, The Wrong ones are Worse than Useless”

  1. If you have access to GSA surplus auctions, it is sometimes possible to buy used, fire-rated, locking filing cabinets of the type used to store classified documents and computer media. I bought a Mosler SFC-4 GSA Fire Safe Legal Size Govt Documents 4 drawer cabinet and had the install done by a bonded locksmith who had experience moving and working on this type of safe.

  2. I have a very good safe with a fire rating. I got it from Western Safe in San Diego. I am not worried that someone will break into it or pick it up and steal it. I guess the next step is to camouflage it somehow so it doesn’t scream BIG Safe something good in here. 🙂

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