December 1, 2012

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Innovative and Invisible

Won-Door—a Great Utah Company You’ve Never Heard of

Peri Kinder

December 1, 2012


An American flag hangs in the lobby of the Won-Door offices in Salt Lake. It was one of 100 flags flying over the Pentagon on 9/11 when American Airlines Flight 77 slammed into the building, killing all 59 passengers on the plane and more than 100 people on the ground.

But the casualties could have been much higher if not for Won-Door’s FireGuard horizontal sliding fire door. As flames roared through the Pentagon, the Utah company’s fire doors automatically sealed off corridors to protect the rest of the building from the devastation.

Won-Door CEO Ron Smart talked with a three-star general following the terrorist attack. Smart says, “The general told me, ‘This door saved my life. When the plane hit, the building just shook. I ran out into the hallway and this fireball was coming straight toward me. There was no way I could outrun it. But then, from out of nowhere, this door came across the hall and absorbed the whole blast of the fireball. Not only did I not die a horrible death, I didn’t even feel any heat and I, and everyone else in the area, was able to get out.’”

It was later determined that the 38 Won-Door FireGuards installed at the Pentagon before 9/11 saved an estimated 2,000 lives that day. After the attack, the Pentagon increased the number of fire doors to nearly 200.

The Won-Door Corporation has been around since the early ‘60s when Smart’s parents, Jay and Ruth Smart, developed the first-ever reliable folding partition. The company’s name originated from a statement made by an associate of Jay’s who remarked, “This door is truly Won-Doorful.” The name stuck and Won-Door continued creating and revolutionizing partition door systems.

Unique and Ubiquitous
Currently found, and easily recognized, in nearly every chapel belonging to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, the accordion partitions are damage resistant and allow a better use of space. The doors smoothly open and close so large rooms can be divided into smaller spaces in churches, office buildings or schools.

But in the late ‘60s, Jay Smart decided that a horizontal sliding fire door structure could allow greater safety measures for buildings and he started fire testing his folding partitions. After a decade of research and testing, the Won-Door FireGuard passed extensive fire tests and was given approval for the doors to be included in buildings as a safety measure.

Smart gives his dad credit for moving forward with marketing the accordion fire doors when no one thought they were necessary. The Smarts had to work hard developing a market for their product, convincing architects and contractors to give Won-Door a chance to prove what it could do. Finally, in 1979, after a horizontal sliding fire door was installed at the California State Department of Rehabilitation, the product obtained support from disability advocacy groups when they realized the doors created additional safety measures for the disabled in multi-level buildings.

The company was on the map and sales skyrocketed. Now there are Won-Door FireGuards on almost every continent in the world. In fact, tens of thousands of Won-Doors can be found in hospitals, airports, museums, hotels and shopping malls across the globe.

“It’s a guarantee that you’ve walked under one of our fire barriers and didn’t even realize it,” Smart says. “If a fire started, the door would automatically close. It comes out of the wall and nobody knows it’s there. It seals off the fire and the smoke.”

Buildings like the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao, Spain, or the Core Pacific City shopping mall in Taipei, Taiwan, utilize Won-Door products because the fire barriers can be incorporated into the contemporary, groundbreaking architecture, enhancing the unique building aesthetics. Won-Door has consistently kept pace with the evolution in building construction, allowing architects a greater design freedom while keeping safety elements in place for the public.

But the biggest concentration of Won-Doors can be found in Las Vegas, where every single casino in the city implements the horizontal fire doors to protect the hotel rooms, gaming areas, lobbies and elevator landings. Because the doors are hidden, secured away into the walls, casinos designers can go all-out with creative elements as the barriers eliminate limitations on the height and width dimensions for passageways or thoroughfares.

The doors increase visibility throughout the area, improve the flow of traffic and assist in the evacuation of a building in case of an emergency. There’s no need for a permanent obstruction to be placed in the center of a large room or public space when the accordion fire doors fold neatly into the surrounding walls. And without the use of floor tracks, the doors are virtually invisible.

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