After an Austin police sergeant likely suffered carbon monoxide (CO) poisoning over the weekend, the department will install carbon monoxide detectors in all 361 APD Ford Explorers by the end of the week.
The sergeant was driving a Ford Explorer on Saturday when he fell ill and hit a curb. He has since been released from the hospital but is not back at work.
The incident comes as KVUE learned the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has received at least 450 similar complaints about possible exhaust leaks in some Ford Explorers. It launched an investigation in 2016, covering models from 2011 to 2015.
But there is still no recall.
"As soon as I found out about it, we immediately began making phone calls and sending emails and trying to see what we can do to take the necessary, immediate actions to ensure the safety of our officers," said APD Assistant Chief Ely Reyes, who oversees the department's fleet division.
Reyes said the department sent out a Risk Management Safety Bulletin about CO gas in vehicles to all officers at the end of February. He said Ford notified APD about the issue in December.
He added there have been three incidents in the past two months. Saturday was the only one that ended with an officer going to the hospital.
Despite that, APD has no plans of switching car companies.
"We've been using the Ford Explorers for several years now, other than these recent issues, we haven't had any concerns with their use," said Reyes.
Jennifer Williamson, a Hutto mother of twin two-year-old girls, isn't as confident about her Ford Explorer. She got her SUV in 2014 and recently starting experiencing odd smells.
"Something didn't smell right," Williamson said, "we started to hear some reports of this exhaust leak and it just sounded strangely familiar."
Two weeks ago, Williamson said she took her SUV to the dealership where they offered to fix the issue for $2,000. Williamson said she's not paying because the problem is a manufacturing one.
While she is trying to not drive the car for her daughters' health, she is worried.
"They have always been in and out of the doctors with respiratory issues and we don't know now if the car is contributing to this," said Williamson.
When Williamson heard about the Austin police officer's incident, she knew it was the same problem.
"I asked Ford 'How many people have to die or go to the hospital before you do something about it?'" asked Williamson.
She has filed a complaint with Ford but has not heard back.
A City of Austin spokesman told KVUE that Ford contacted them Monday morning and offered to investigate vehicles experiencing a CO gas issue. Reyes said they plan to send two patrol vehicles back to Ford.
We reached out to Dr. Christopher Ziebell, the Medical Director of the Emergency Department at University Medical Center-Brackenridge to get a better idea about the dangers of carbon monoxide.
1. How prevalent is carbon monoxide poisoning?
Thankfully, we do not see it often here in Austin. It is more common in colder places due to the closed up buildings and use of fossil fuels for heat. We see it most commonly in people who are trapped in burning buildings.
2. How dangerous is it?
Carbon Monoxide poisoning can be very dangerous. It can lead to long term problems with neurological functioning. Many people get it, get treated, and get better, but some become disabled, and of course, since it is colorless, odorless, and sedating, it can even kill people who peacefully fall asleep in the presence of the gas.
3. What are the symptoms?
If there are symptoms, they are typically headache, nausea, sleepiness, or lightheadedness.
4. About how many patients do you typically treat each year for CO poisoning in vehicles?
We do not see it often at all. In my 27 years of emergency medicine, I’ve probably only seen 5 or 6 cases.
5. How can CO poisoning be more dangerous in cars than homes?
Carbon monoxide is dangerous wherever it is allowed to build up and people can breathe it. Typically, cars are in motion, so the carbon dioxide gets left behind as the car moves away. It accumulates in a vehicle when the vehicle is not moving, and there is an exhaust leak up front or under the car. In northern states, we would see it from kerosene powered heaters or improperly tuned furnaces. Any home that has gas appliances should have one or more CO detectors.