With a National Highway Traffic Safety Administration probe underway, area police departments are looking at their Ford Explorer sport utility vehicles after seeing reports nationwide that they may expose officers to increased levels of carbon monoxide.
“We have them and we know about it,” Berlin Deputy Chief John Klett said. Berlin police have six Ford Police Interceptor utility vehicles, which essentially have a Ford Explorer body, Klett said.
As complaints from around the nation began to escalate, the department had the town’s chief mechanic, Jim Simons, inspect the vehicles. Simons determined that the models that have the problem have a rear-cabin ventilation system, which none of the Berlin cruisers have, Klett said.
“Ours don’t appear to be affected,” Klett said. “We were told we don’t have that unit.”
Ford marketed the SUVs to police departments as an alternative to the traditional Crown Victoria and other sedans. Every department in central Connecticut now uses the vehicles in some capacity.
Police in Berlin, Plainville, New Britain, and Bristol are all taking measures to keep officers safe. Local officials said they have not received any reports of officers becoming sick while driving the vehicles.
“The primary concern for us is officer safety and officer health,” New Britain Police Chief James Wardwell said. “We can’t protect the public if our officers aren’t safe and healthy.”
The NHTSA is investigating Ford Explorers, including the Police Interceptors, from the 2011 to 2017 model years, according to an NHTSA report. More than 1.3 million Explorers in the model years under examination are on the road.
The NHTSA acknowledged that many of the complaints have come from police departments that use the Police Interceptor version of the Explorer.
The NHTSA began investigating the vehicles in 2016 after Ford and the agency received numerous complaints from consumers, including police departments. The complaints ranged from loss of consciousness in a few cases to nausea, headaches and lightheadedness, the NHTSA said.
In the past week, the Austin, Texas, Police Department has pulled 446 Ford Explorer SUV’s off the road after receiving 62 workers compensation claims in five months related to elevated levels of carbon monoxide, The Associated Press and CNN Money reported.
An Auburn, Mass., police officer fell asleep behind the wheel Wednesday and rear-ended a car, AP said. He was driving one of the department’s Ford Explorer SUVs. The department’s 10 Explorers were taken off the road.
Area police departments have not experienced the same problems. But they are taking the issue seriously, Wardwell said.
“We have a coordinated effort to inspect every vehicle,” Wardwell said, which involved the city garage, the fleet officer and an offsite contractor used by the city to install aftermarket items in new police vehicles.
Wardwell has instructed officers to keep their cruiser windows open at least a crack while the engine is running. There will also be a new inspection protocol. The department has 26 Police Interceptors.
“We have been looking at this for weeks,” Wardwell said, but no conclusions have been reached.
Theories on what could cause elevated levels of carbon monoxide range from improperly installed aftermarket items that police vehicles require to exhaust manifold cracks, which the NHTSA said it will be looking at as the investigation continues.
Plainville police put carbon monoxide detectors in the seven Explorers that are part of their patrol fleet, Lt. Nicholas Mullins said. “We installed the carbon monoxide detectors as a precaution,” Mullins said. “We’re monitoring what’s happening with this very closely.”
Lisa Backus can be reached at 860-801-5066 or Lbackus@centralctcommunications.com.