Austin pulls Ford Explorers from police fleet after cops get sick from carbon monoxide

AUSTIN - The city of Austin, Texas, is pulling all 446 Ford Explorers from its police fleet after detecting potentially dangerous levels of carbon monoxide in the vehicles.

"We are going to remove the Ford Explorer from the city's fleet, which comprises a large majority part of the APD patrol fleet," Chief Brian Manley said.

The Austin Police Department has experienced carbon monoxide issues over the past five months, he said. In that time, 62 workers' comp reports have been filed by officers for exposure to carbon monoxide. And 20 of those officers had a measurable level of carbon monoxide in their system when they were tested, Manley said. Three of them have not returned to work.

So far, the APD has pulled 69 Explorers and Utility Interceptors, a modified version of the Explorer, from service. Another 4 were removed from other departments.

Officials expect to have all these SUVs switched out with other vehicles by Monday evening. The city will use cars from other departments like the Highway Response Team to make up the difference. Manley added that the overall number of officers on duty won't change.

The Explorers will be stored until the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) and Ford conclude an investigation into what's wrong with the cars -- and figure out a solution.

The decision follows NHTSA's announcement that it has expanded its investigation into 1.3 million 2011-2017 Ford Explorer SUVs over reports of exhaust odors and concerns of carbon monoxide exposure.

NHTSA says that more than 2,700 complaints have been filed by those concerned they've been exposed to carbon monoxide while in the vehicles.

"Safety is our top priority," Ford said in a statement. "We have not found elevated levels of carbon monoxide in regular Ford Explorers. To address police customers who drive modified vehicles in unique ways, we will cover the costs of specific repairs in every Police Interceptor Utility that may have carbon monoxide concerns."

Austin's police department isn't the only one to have been impacted by faulty vehicles. James Thibodeaux, captain of the Henderson Police Department in Louisiana, said one of his officers passed out while driving and crashed after she spent 11 hours in an Explorer.

"She was treated at a nearby hospital and was released the same day," Thibodeaux said. "She had to undergo some oxygen level treatment because her carbon monoxide levels were near fatal 2 hours after the accident."

Some officers are taking their battle against Ford to court. Austin officer Zachary LaHood, said that back in March, he nearly crashed into another car when he was overcome by fumes. A California officer, Brian McDowell, crashed into a tree while driving an Interceptor. LaHood and McDowell are suing Ford over the incidents.

Brian Chase, the attorney representing LaHood, McDowell and a few other officers, said on Friday that he "commend[s] the Austin Police Department for taking the right action and removing those vehicles from the road."