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First police units that sickened Austin officers back in service

46 of 439 modified Ford Explorers are back in service after being sidelined by the Austin Police Department because of safety concerns. (Photo: Bettie Cross)

The first of the modified Ford Explorers that sickened some Austin police officers are back in service. 46 of 439 patrol units were repaired and are now back on the streets. Austin Police Chief Brian Manley says he's confident the carbon monoxide issues have been fixed, but the city is going to continue to test and monitor the vehicles closely.

More than a dozen APD officers have been treated for carbon monoxide exposure. Many quickly returned to duty, but currently there are two officers on no-duty status and three on limited-duty status. They became sick after the toxic gas seeped inside APD's modified Ford Explorers.

“This is Ford's fix,” said Jennifer Walls, Fleet Services Officer for the City of Austin. “I'm optimistic about the repairs.”

One of the biggest repairs is being done to the rear hatch doors. They're being completely resealed.

“It actually goes all the way around the inside here,” said James Teague with Fleet Services.

The tighter fit is designed to keep carbon monoxide from seeping inside the patrol units. In addition, the exhaust pipes on the patrol units are being lengthened and curved downward.

“Instead of coming straight out and being underneath the bumper, they turned the tail pipe down allowing the exhaust to exit the back side of the unit,” said Teague.

Dash cam video captures why APD sidelined over 400 vehicles in July. A California police officer blacked out behind the wheel, crossed several lanes of traffic and crashed his Ford Explorer into a tree. APD thinks the problem has been fixed, but carbon monoxide detectors are being placed in each vehicle the first 24 hours it's back in service. In addition, officers will have personal carbon monoxide detectors they keep for 30 days. Despite the problems, APD says the department would still buy Ford vehicles.

“I would still feel comfortable recommending future Ford purchases for the city's fleet,” said Chief Manley. “Once the problem was recognized they took aggressive steps and worked with us to remediate them.”

The carbon monoxide problems prompted the City of Austin and APD to review their purchasing policies.

In the future, they've decided to purchase a more diverse fleet of vehicles.

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