Austin, TX - Due to continuing problems with Ford Explorers and carbon monoxide poisoning, Austin police officers have been advised by their union to drive them with the windows down, according to KXAN.
The issue is not new, and now the Austin Police Department is looking for temporary and permanent solutions. Ken Casaday, Austin Police Association president, sent out a letter on Friday, July 14, telling officers to drive the vehicles with their windows down. He said that if a police vehicle's carbon monoxide detector goes off, that they should get out of the vehicle immediately, call an ambulance, and "have their blood drawn asap" for worker's compensation purposes.
On Thursday, July 13, the Austin Police Department said that it is committed to taking action, after more than eight incidents have occurred in Ford Explorers in just over a week. In all of those incidents, Austin police officers have been treated and released.
The first reported exposure of an Austin police officer to carbon monoxide poisoning was in March. Since then, the city of Austin has spent $27,185 to install hard-wired carbon monoxide detectors in all city Ford Explorers, including police vehicles.
Austin Police Sergeant Zachary Lahood became severely ill due to carbon monoxide poisoning and has filed a lawsuit against Ford Motor Company, according to Fox News. Now he is so sick that he can't work. Casaday said that Sergeant Lahood has "Vision issues, headaches, nausea, dizziness."
The incident involving Sergeant Lahood occurred March 28, while he was on patrol in his Ford Explorer. He apparently passed out while driving, and was transported to a hospital where high levels of carbon monoxide were found in his body.
Casaday said that Ford needed to 'take responsibility' and recall the vehicles. After Sergeant Lahood's incident, 400 detectors were purchased by the City of Austin for all Ford Explorers.
In some cases, the detectors continue to go off after their installation, leading to wide-spread fear that a larger issue is to blame. Austin Assistant Police Chief Troy Gay said "We would not be doing our due diligence if we did not plan for the contingency of pulling all the utility vehicles out of the fleet", although he would like that to be a last option
Currently, there are 439 Ford Explorers being used by Austin city employees, and 397 of those are police vehicles. The Explorers make up 61% of total vehicles in the police department. Forty of those police Explorers are out of service due to concerns about the carbon monoxide, and four have been repaired and placed back in service.
Assistant Chief Gay said, "Some of those vehicles are assigned to support units and some of those are on the front line." He said that front-line vehicles have to be a certain type, and that the agency has enough unmarked, pursuit-ready cruisers to swap out all of the Explorers.
He also said, “What we’re looking at right now is identifying all the vehicles that we have in the fleet — both support and on the line — and figuring out without impacting our mission, how we can redistribute potentially these vehicles."
In a 2015 deposition, a Ford company representative said that there appears to be a “design issue,” and that they were working on it. The company has not notified customers and maintains that the issue poses no safety risk. The issue is believed to occur while accelerating with the air conditioning active and in circulation mode.
Future options include two officers riding together in non-utility vehicles. The priority, according to Assistant Chief Gay, are front-line officers. He said, "For the safety of our officers, if we need to pull these vehicles, we will. We are going to take proactive measures to make sure that our officers are safe. That is the number one concern."