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Antique Safes/Unknown liquid in vials on door of HHM safe


unknown liquid in two vials
unknown liquid in two  

unknown liquid - two vials
unknown liquid - two v  
Many years ago I bought an HHM safe second hand.  There is something mounted on the inside back of the door that I intend to get rid of, but don't know what it is.  I'll try to attach 2 pictures.  Behind the metal cover are two vials, nine inches long and 1 inch in diameter, containing an almost clear liquid.  This attachment is clearly an "after market" attachment.  May be a fire suppressant, because a partially remaining sticker mentions "fire department if discharged".  Nothing else is left of the sticker.  Another possibility is that it is a booby trap with tear gas that waits for someone to try to force their way in.  Incidentally, I know nothing of the history of this safe, but there are scars on it indicating that forced entry was attempted at some time by someone with no knowledge of safes.  (Hacksaw marks on the hinges.)  Would you know what this liquid is, and/or what precautions should be used in disposing of it?


This is NOT an unknown liquid, it is either a CS or CN type of tear gas.   Having the vials attached to the back of your safe - whether or not you installed them - constitutes a felony in most states - "Booby trapping".   Which means if this gas is activated you could be held liable for anyone's injuries.

Second item, while it is illegal to own and possess more than very small amounts of tear gas for personal protection, this type of tear gas generally requires that you have a permit to possess, having it may result in a misdemeanor.

You should check your state and local ordnances to see where you stand.

While these items were legal for sale up to about 1980, this hasn't been the case for about 30+ years now.

You have several options for disposal.

1.  You can contact your local authorities, who will probably show up with the fire department, HAZMAT team, and possibly the bomb squad.   You may be cited and fined for possession, and you may have to pay the cost for all of these service teams and the disposal.

2.  You can contact a local safe company to have them remove the device and dispose of it.   generally most safe companies will have some type of arrangement with the local authorities for disposal.   While you will have a fee for these services - it WILL eliminate your possible exposure to any criminal (felony or misdemeanor) type charges and/or fines.

3.  You can dispose of this as a DIY project.   Note:  we do not recommend this as these chemicals are extremely hazardous, and can result in death if someone with any type of respiratory type illness comes in contact with the gas.    YES THIS IS EXTREMELY DANGEROUS STUFF!!!
If you do remove it dispose of it either through your local HAZMAT agency or a local safe company.
If you decide to simply take it to a remote location like a gravel quarry, then make sure that no one is down wind of the area that you break the vials in.   In a large open area, the tear gas will dissipate rather quickly and leave no lasting residue.

If the vials break in an enclosed area, the tear gas and its residue may last for weeks.   Obviously in an incident like this (especially if someone is injured), will result in the authorities being notified, and you may be back to option #1 whether you like it or not.

Hope this gives you some ideas and directions.   My recommendation is to NOT mess with these vials (or the safe) until you have come up with a SAFE disposal plan.  

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Terry V. Andreasen (Andy)


Safe and Vault related Questions; Antique Safe Repair and Restoration; With over 44 years in the Safe & Vault industry, if I can't answer your question I know where to get the answer. Current Project: Restoration of an Ely Norris Cannonball Safe from the early 1900's. Will answer Safe & Vault related questions concerning age, value, restoration, moving, opening & repairing, parts, operation and history. Note: It is not my intention to teach you to open safes or to provide information which may aid in the unlawful opening of a safe. I will not give out drill points or information which I deem inappropriate.


44 years in the Safe & Vault Industry. Owner and Service Manager for one of the largest Safe & Vault companies on the West Coast. Graduate of Lockmasters Safe Lock Servicing, Safe lock Manipulation and Safe Deposit Lock Courses. Graduate of Locksmith Institute. Author of "The Coffee Table Guide to Antique Safes". Certified Instructor for the California Locksmith Association teaching Basic and Advanced Lock Servicing, Basic Safe opening and Repairing. Factory Trained by AMSEC, LORD Safes, LeFebure, Mosler, KabaMas, LaGard and Sargent & Greenleaf

Safecrackers International and the National Antique Safe Association Safe & Vault Technicians Association

The Coffee Table Guide to Antique Safes

Graduate of Locksmith Institute 1972 Graduate Lockmasters Safe Lock Servicing 1974 Graduate Lockmasters Safe Lock Manipulation 1975 Graduate Lockmasters Safe Deposit Lock Servicing 1985 Instructor Certified - California Locksmith Association - 1985 Factory trained by AMSEC, MAJOR, STAR, Johnson-Pacific, Kaba-MAS, Allied-Gary, ISM, Lord, Brown Safe, EXL, Mosler, Diebold.

Awards and Honors
2009 - 2015 Listed in AllExperts top 50 Experts. All Experts Categories - Safes & Security Containers, Locksmithing, Antique Safes. Retired US Army Chief Warrant Officer (CW4), with 39 years of total service. With numerous awards from Vietnam, Desert Storm and Operation Iraqi Freedom. US Navy - 1971-1981 US Army Reserve 1984-2013 US Army Retired

Past/Present Clients
US Secret Service, FBI, BATF, Local Law enforcment agencies, Diebold, Hamilton Pacific, Red Hawk Int., Chubb International, Bank of America, Wells Fargo Bank, Mechanics Bank, El Dorado Savings Bank, many Credit unions and smaller banks. McDonalds, Togos, BurgerKing, TacoBell, Carls Jr. FoodMaxx, SaveMart, Lucky's, Albertson's, Raley's, Safeway, NobHill, Bell Markets, PW Markets. Great America, Century Theatres, Cinemark Theatres, UA Cinemas, and many homeowners and small businesses. Provide warranty service for lock and safe manufactures. Service area is Northern California - Fresno to Oregon, including western Nevada

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