Austin Police Association President Ken Casaday says on Friday night, an Austin Police sergeant was driving his patrol Ford Explorer in south Austin when he nearly passed out behind the wheel.
Casaday says the officer bumped into a curb and called for assistance.
He was taken to the hospital and doctors found high levels of carbon monoxide in his body.
“The injuries associated with carbon monoxide poison have to do with lack of oxygenation, primary to the brain, so you get a headache early. Sometimes nausea, vomiting, progressing to true changes in mental status, and it can actually make you comatose if they levels get high enough.”
Emergency room Doctor Pamela Hate with Baylor Scott and White says there’s really no way to tell if what’s happening to you is more than just a headache.
“No, really, there isn’t. It’s a colorless, odorless gas, there’s no way to tell whether anything in particular is doing that to you.”
There are similar reports from all over the country of this happening in Ford Explorers.
On Monday, Assistant Austin Police Chief Ely Reyes says they first heard about the issue in December.
“Ford issued a technical safety bulletin that had some concerns about possible exhaust leaking into some of the Ford Explorer vehicles…namely models between 2011 and 2015.”
Reyes says at the time, they didn’t have any reports of problems from officers. They installed mobile detectors at the substations and sent out this safety bulletin telling officers about the potential problem and said they shouldn’t use the “recirculated air” button in the car.
Casaday is hoping the Ford Motor Company will come up with a better solution to the problem than that.
“That’s in no way a fix.”
Casaday says the in-car computer is very close to that button and officers could accidentally hit it.
Since December, Reyes says there have been three reported incidents, including the one from Friday. Two different units have been sent back to Ford.
Reyes says in the short-term, they have ordered 400 carbon monoxide detectors that will arrive on Tuesday.
“If it changes to certain colors then the officer driving the vehicle will know that carbon monoxide levels in that vehicle are rising.”
And long-term, the city fleet is buying detectors like this that will be hardwired into the Ford Explorers.
“These carbon monoxide detectors will be here by the end of the week and then fleet will be installing them in all of the Ford Explorers in our fleet as soon as they arrive.”
“Law enforcement officers around the country right now have too many issues to deal with. We’ve got an uptick in violent crime that we’re dealing with here in Austin. And just like I wrote in an email to our members the other day, that’s the last thing they need to be worrying about is being poisoned by their car when they’re out trying to help people in their community.”