Ford faces scrutiny over reports of fumes in police vehicles

Last Updated Aug 3, 2017 6:10 PM EDT

MONTPELIER, Vt. -- A growing number of police departments across the country are taking action over concerns that carbon monoxide fumes from Ford Explorer patrol vehicles are seeping inside the SUVs, potentially sickening officers.

Vermont State Police and several other departments in the Northeast are inspecting their fleets or have installed carbon monoxide monitors in the vehicles. At least two departments in Texas have gone further, pulling their entire fleets Ford Explorers off the road.

The actions come as police in Auburn, Massachusetts, confirmed an officer who passed out behind the wheel of his cruiser and crashed had tested positive for exposure to carbon monoxide.

The department said on its Facebook page that three officers have had to go to the hospital because of exposure to carbon monoxide. Auburn police also said that the town's fire and public works departments had also taken two Explorers out of service.

These are photos of the two involved vehicles from the earlier crash involving our officer who suffered a carbon...

Posted by Auburn MA Police Department on Wednesday, August 2, 2017

"We would urge other departments to have their cruisers tested and/or purchase detectors to ensure everyone's safety," the Auburn police department said in a Facebook post.

A spokeswoman for Ford Motor Co. (F) said Thursday it sent engineers to Auburn to inspect the vehicles and will go "to any department that asks for assistance."

Reports of the problems aroused public ire on social media.

"The community should be outraged that our officers that put it all on the line to keep us safe have substandard equipment," said one person who commented on the Auburn police department's Facebook page.

Earlier this month, dashcam video from March appears to show Austin police Sgt. Zachary LaHood sickened by what his department says was carbon monoxide seeping into his Ford Explorer police cruiser. 

A spokesman for the department said Thursday that it has received more than 70 reports from officers of fumes entering the vehicles. Eighteen officers who have been tested were found to have elevated levels of carbon monoxide, according to a department memo sent to Austin's mayor and city council. 

The Austin police department has pulled 397 Explorers off the road because of the concerns, while other local agencies have taken some 40 of the vehicles out of service. Carbon monoxide detectors have since been added to the police department's Explorer fleet, and the city is working with Ford and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration to rectify the problem, the spokesman said. 

In February, CBS News identified more than 450 complaints involving 2011 to 2017 model year Ford Explorers, not just police units. Federal regulators acknowledge that number has grown and are investigating.

Ford has known about the problem since at least 2012. A company representative acknowledged in a deposition that it appears to be a "design issue" that may allow exhaust, which contains carbon monoxide, to seep in, likely through unsealed seams in the rear of the SUV.