Area police chiefs say they have not yet heard complaints of illness, but they are taking a proactive approach to national reports that some police officers have gotten sick when they drive Ford Explorer SUV cruisers.
Some local departments have installed carbon monoxide meters in the vehicles, some are in the process, and others are having the interiors of their Ford Explorers tested for carbon monoxide emissions.
“Officer safety is a priority,” said Biddeford police Chief Roger Beaupre, who said the carbon monoxide monitors he ordered arrived Wednesday. The monitors, which fit in the palm of a hand, emit a beeping noise if there is a problem.
The police interceptor SUVs have come under scrutiny in recent months. Police in Auburn, Massachusetts, on Wednesday said an officer who recently passed out behind the wheel of his cruiser and crashed had tested positive for exposure to carbon monoxide, according to reports.
Ford Motor Company officials reportedly acknowledged there could be dangerous leaks in some of the vehicles that have been modified for police use. The leaks could cause carbon monoxide to enter an SUV’s cab.
The vehicles are popular with police. They’re roomier than conventional sedan cruisers, Beaupre noted.
“Officers like them, you don’t have to worry in snow, they operate like a tank, and they’re roomy,” Beaupre said.
“They’re a very practical vehicle for the New England area,” Sanford Deputy Police Chief Tim Strout said.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration a week ago said it has expanded an investigation into complaints of exhaust fumes inside Ford Explorer SUVs, and the probe now covers 1.3 million vehicles.
The agency also said that through cooperation with police departments, it has learned that the Police Interceptor version of the Explorer is experiencing exhaust manifold cracks that are hard to detect and may explain exhaust odors.
Investigators will evaluate the cause, frequency and safety consequences of the cracks, and whether Explorers used by civilians are experiencing cracked manifolds, the agency said.
Deputy Police Chief Corey Huntress in Saco said the department on Thursday heard from the dealership that provided the department’s SUVs and was told there would be a recall plan at the end of August and that Ford would “do what it takes to fix it.”
Huntress said the Saco department installed carbon monoxide detectors last week. And he said, most officers drive with their windows down — in order to hear what is going on around them.
Strout in Sanford, said the agency installed carbon monoxide detectors in their nine Ford Explorer vehicles in the spring, when they first heard concerns expressed by officers in Austin, Texas. Austin pulled more than 400 Ford Explorers off the road a week ago and more recently, the Galveston, Texas Police Department did so as well.
Sheriff William King said his deputies have been instructed to report to their local fire departments in the rural towns they patrol to obtain an interior carbon monoxide test.
Ford spokeswoman Elizabeth Weigandt said the company has a team working with police, customers and NHTSA to investigate the reports and solve problems. Customers with concerns can call a dedicated hotline at 888-260-5575 or visit their local dealer.