The fire chest test - FOX5 Vegas - KVVU

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The fire chest test

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LAS VEGAS (FOX5) -

There are plenty of safes and chests on the market for consumers looking to secure their items. Some are branded as fire resistant, but how accurate is that claim? FOX5 tested several brands to see how well they hold up in a fast-moving fire.

"A fire in a home is going to be between 700 and 1,000 degrees," said Tim Szymanski, public information officer at Las Vegas Fire and Rescue.

Those temperatures are enough to burn your most precious possessions - your marriage certificate, birth certificates, passports and social security cards to name a few.

"Average (firefighter) response times are about six to seven minutes, depending on the time of day and traffic conditions," Szymanski noted.

In the hopes of saving at least some possessions, homeowners invest sometimes hundreds of dollars in safes billed as resistant to fires or temperatures in excess of 1,000 degrees.

FOX5 put three popular boxes to the test - all different brands - Honeywell, First Alert and Sentry. All cost between $44 and $52.

We also tested a Steelmaster security box labeled "fire retardant." That cost only $20.

We added common items including a sheet of paper, a DVD and a USB memory stick. Those items can be significant, Szymanski said.

"I encourage people to take videos - pictures of the interior of their home, and when you go to meet with your insurance agent, a lot of times they ask you to prove it. If you've got a picture, it's worth a thousand words," Szymanski said.

When we put the boxes to the test, we used wood to mimic a typical house fire and burned the boxes for 20 minutes, which is greater than the typical Las Vegas Fire and Rescue response time.

Starting with the Steelmaster box - again labeled as "fire retardant," we noticed that only five minutes into the test, smoke could be seen escaping from inside the metal box.

Every box FOX5 tested, with the exception of the Steelmaster, is UL listed to withstand 1,550 degrees for up to a half hour. Underwriters Laboratories tests most major brands to ensure the product is accurately marked.

After 20 minutes, the box was so hot that the lock melted, and the contents inside were destroyed by fire.

The next three tests involved the UL listed brands.

First up was the Honeywell Model 1103. Within seconds, the side started to burn.

"You can see there's some kind of process taking place on the outside," Szymanski observed.

At four minutes, the handle melted, and by six minutes, the box was fully engulfed in flames.

"If this was in a closet, it would be burning on the clothes and the other items up above it to help spread the fire," Szymanski said.

After 20 minutes, however, the interior of the box was unharmed, and everything survived.

The same thing happened when we tested the First Alert 2030F. The exterior plastic melted away and could be seen melting off the box.

But the First Alert box also survived.

"The object of the game is we don't want heat going into this box," Szymanski said. "So, the thicker the insulation, the longer the item would last."

In only the first couple of minutes during the test of the Sentry Safe H2300, the plastic handle heated up to 911 degrees.

After 20 minutes, Szymanski had to beat it open, and the insulation created a mess. Everything inside, however, was dry and untouched.

It is recommended in user manuals to lock the safe to ensure proper fire protection. It may also help keep the items secure if the box falls for any reason.

In our tests, it was found that chests with insulating material stood up to the flames far better than a solid metal box, although most boxes are tested for only 30 minutes. Fires that continue to burn past that time may begin to compromise the material inside.

"If just the inside of the box got above 450 degrees, that paper ignites and melts the other items," said Szymanski.

The important thing firefighters suggest is to look at the fine print to see what your safe is tested to handle.

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