WILTON MANORS, FLA. (WSVN) - - South Florida law enforcement agencies are having carbon monoxide detectors installed in their Ford Explorer cruisers following a series of incidents where officers have breathed in the toxic fumes.
The measure is being taken following thousands of complaints to the federal government about carbon monoxide seeping inside the specially outfitted SUVs. Ford Explorer models from 2011 to 2017 have been the subject of many of those reports.
“You hear these horror stories of people just falling asleep because of the gas,” said Davie Police Sgt. Mark Leone.
Case in point: A Newport Beach Police officer was caught on video swerving across a median and crossing into oncoming traffic in his Ford Explorer before crashing into trees on the side of the road on Sept. 6, 2015. Officials said carbon monoxide — odorless, colorless, potentially deadly — had leaked into his patrol vehicle.
That officer survived the crash but sustained broken bones and a traumatic brain injury.
Incidents like this raised concerns at police departments across the county. “Just the uncertainty of now knowing 100 percent that there’s not a problem,” said Bay Harbor Islands Police Chief Sean Hemingway.
Officials said late model Ford Explorers appear to be susceptible to carbon monoxide leaks because of the manner in which they’re outfitted for police use.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has received nearly 3,000 complaints, noting more than 40 people have been injured.
“You won’t even know that it’s in there,” said a police spokesperson.
Ford Explorers are increasingly popular with law enforcement agencies. “Increased cargo space. Our deputies have to carry a lot more gear than they used to,” said Broward Sheriff’s Office Maj. Jonathan Appel.
This is perhaps why the overwhelming majority of police departments in South Florida use Explorers. “The safety ratings on it were on the high side, and we chose that to be the vehicle for the Davie Police Department,” said Leone.
Most of the agencies have installed or plan to install carbon monoxide detectors. “They’re passive devices that go inside the compartment of the vehicle,” said Leone, “and there’s an indicator on there to let the operator know if there’s any carbon monoxide present.”
“We started the project about a month ago,” said Hemingway. “So far, we’re not getting any reports of any carbon monoxide in the cabins.”
BSO, Wilton Manors, Miami Beach and City of Miami Police have already installed the devices inside their patrol vehicles.
Miami Police Officer David Herring died in 1986 due to carbon monoxide poisoning.
“The officers are randomly chosen to bring their car in for a thorough inspection,” said Miami Police Officer Christopher Bess.
But some cities like Austin, Texas and Auburn, Mass. have simply removed Ford Explorers from service. In an already dangerous business, departments want to mitigate the threat from inside the car.
“They could sit in their vehicle on a perimeter or surveillance for a long period of time, or writing a report, and we want to make sure they’re not exposed to any dangerous fumes,” said Appel.
A spokesperson for Ford Motor Company addressed the issue in a statement that read in part, “There is nothing we take more seriously than providing you with the safest and most reliable vehicles. To address these concerns, Ford is announcing … it will cover the cost of specific repairs in every police interceptor utility that may have this concern.”
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