Do fireproof safes work?

Do fireproof safes work?

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by NewsChannel 36 Staff

WCNC.com

Posted on March 9, 2010 at 6:22 PM

No one wants to think about losing everything they own in a fire. But that's exactly what happened to Theresa Hohman and her family in July 2008.

"It's just unimaginable that it happens to you, and especially in the middle of the night. It was just really scary," said Hohman.

The fire started in the garage. They lost the family pet and everything else that was inside.

"We did have some papers in the garage but they weren't anything really important, but if they were in a safe container they would have been OK. So, that is a lesson learned," Hohman said.

It's a lesson some people have had to learn the hard way, according to Capt. Jon Rigolo. He's been on many house fires during his career and seen families lose everything, including important papers that might have been saved it they had been inside a fire safe.

"I've only found a handful and I've found them charred up. I've found them with no damage at all.  Typically, they hold up OK and the contents have been good," Rigolo said.

He's never seen a fire safe take on direct flame, but he agreed to test one at a firefighter training house to see if the safe really is fireproof and waterproof.

We put some papers and a Rick Springfield CD inside the safe. Then, we set it on fire.

Within 20 seconds the safe was surrounded by flames. A thermo imaging camera checked the temperature -- about 650 to 700 degrees.

After several minutes, Rigolo extinguished the flames.

"A lot of the plastic is melted, so the key is not there and the handles have burned off," Rigolo said of the safe. "But we'll peel the plastic away. We have a tool to do that, and we'll see what happens."

Rigolo peeled the plastic off the safe and pried it open. 

"It appears that Rick Springfield survived the fire and the note says, 'If you can read this, then it works,'" Rigolo said.

Rigolo noticed that everything inside the safe appeared untouched and the gasket around the box was still intact.

"So, if we flowed a lot of water on it, the contents would be dry still," he said. "I thought maybe the exterior would hold up better so it would be easier to gain access to. Still though, all intact -- not bad."

Fire officials say it's important to make sure the safe is fireproof and waterproof. Fire safes are sold at various stores. The safe Rigolo tested cost $40.

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