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Hi, Andy. I'm looking at a small, late 1970's Montgomery Ward 9017 fire resistant safe. I understand it was likely made by Meilink. The UL rating plate on the inside of the door indicates "1 hour, 350 degrees". Does this original rating mean the inside temp of the safe would not surpass 350 degrees for one hour? I'm used to seeing current UL ratings that say "1 Hour, 1700 degrees" or whatever. Second question: If the interior fire resistant insulation material has never been cracked (including what's inside the door), is it safe to assume the original fire rating still holds true? Thanks for your help. John

Answer
John,

You are correct.   While exterior "test" temperatures may vary by testing agency, the industry "standard" is that "INTERIOR" of the container cannot exceed the 350 degree Fahrenheit (F).    The reason being that paper (or similar items) doesn't char until about 412 F, and won't combust until around 451 F.    The 1700 degree F, reference would be what THAT individual testing agency tests the safe at.   AGAIN, if the INTERIOR of the safe exceeds the 350 F mark, the safe would not pass.   The TIME requirements are also part of the testing, so if a similar safe was tested under the same requirements for TWO hours, and the interior did not exceed the 350 F mark, it would have a 2 hour label.
NOTE:   as data storage media (film, disc's, etc.) generally melt at around 200 degrees F, Data storage containers are usually rated with a MAXIMUM interior temperature of 150 degrees F, for the time period tested - 1 hr, 2 hr or 4 hours.

As far as the "age" of a container and whether or not it meets "CURRENT" standards, and/or its labeled rating, the answer is "VAGUE".    While UL indicates that in order to continue to meet the standards of the label, similar containers would have to be submitted by the manufacturer for "retesting", and I believe that they indicate a period of 10 years.   
The PROBLEM being, once a container is placed in service, no two containers get the same "use" or "abuse".   For instance one container might only be opened occasionally, closed properly, and serviced on a regular basis (best case), or the container may be opened several times a day, with the door slammed every time its shut, with little maintenance ever done.

As there is no way to "retest" a model of a manufacturer's fire resistive safe, and guarantee that ALL of the similar containers would meet the retest - it simply isn't done.

We use an arbitrary 50 year period to declare that a container NO LONGER meets ANY type of certification.   Without testing EVERY used container, you cannot verify that it will continue to meet the standards that it was designed for, AND more importantly the testing IS a destructive method, so it would be kind of self defeating!

If you have an ASSUMED 1970's container (possibly/probably older), it would be nearing or already at the end of its useful life.

In answer to your question - "IS IT SAFE TO ASSUME" -  I can't answer that question for you, you have to decide for yourself!    "is it safe to assume, when you go to Las Vegas, that when you bet on a specific number or color on the Roulette game that you will win every bet???"   Obviously the answer would be an emphatic NO!    The difference being when you go to Las Vegas, you take an amount of cash that YOU would be comfortable losing.    If you feel that same way about the items that you place in your safe, and IF you actually suffer a fire, if the safe performs and protects the items you win.   If it doesn't and the documents and other items are ruined - its no big deal as - remember - "YOU were comfortable with losing" these items.
If you are NOT comfortable with losing the items that you place in the safe, then you should obtain a safe, that meets current standards, and more importantly, meets MORE than the minimum.   Remember that having a safe is like having an insurance policy - the ONLY time its of any use is when its doing its job - PROTECTING your items from the fire!

If you were asking me for a recommendation, about this container, I would give you the following advice.
1.  One hour fire resistance is a MINIMUM rating or a standard.   Anything less than 1 hour should be considered "sub-standard protection".   Anything more than 1 hour should be considered "super-standard".   So 30 or 45 min. is less than, and 90 min or 2 hours would be better than standard.
2.  These cheaply built, older safes should ONLY be used for NON-valuable documents of general purpose nature that can easily be replaced.   If you can't easily replace a document, or if it cost you more than $50 to replace a document, then I would NOT place it in this safe.
3.  This container should NOT be used for overnight storage of ANY valuables, cash, jewelry, valuable documents or weapons.

Ok, bottom line its your decision what you are going to do with it.   I've laid out my arguments for and against it.   To be totally honest, I have a three drawer fire resistive file cabinet from the 1950's that I use for "GENERAL" document storage, HOWEVER, ALL of my valuable documents, including birth certs. vehicle titles, military retirement documents, home owner and insurance docs, and military retirement papers are in a current model safe, which is a 90 min container.

I've opened lots of safes which were in tremendous fires, and it always amazes me how much damage some of these little guys will sustain and still protect their contents, but the question is "DO YOU" want to take the risk that YOUR container won't do its job.

Hope this gives you some insight to make an informed decision.

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Terry V. Andreasen (Andy)

Expertise

Safe and Vault related Questions; Antique Safe Repair and Restoration; With over 42 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.

Experience

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. 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 Author of "The Coffee Table Guide to Antique Safes".

Organizations
SafeCrackers International and the National Antique Safe Association Safe & Vault Technicians Association (SAVTA)

Publications
The Coffee Table Guide to Antique Safes AllExperts.com

Education/Credentials
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 Expert 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 and Western Nevada)

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