State Troopers PBA says Ford´s fire-suppression plans aren´t enough

State Troopers PBA says Ford’s fire-suppression plans aren’t enough
PBA, 2003-08-08

The State Troopers PBA has responded to a press conference held by Ford Motor Co. on Thursday to announce a fire-suppression system for Crown Victoria Police Interceptors in the 2005 model. The PBA believes the current CVPIs used by Troopers and police officers across the county need to be outfitted now – not two years from now – with fuel bladders and fire-suppression panels. To read a story printed in The Journal News newspaper of Westchester, Rockland and Putnam counties, click on the link or refer to the text.

Ford police cars to get anti-fire features

(Original publication: August 8, 2003)

NEW YORK — The Ford Motor Co. and state Sen. Nicholas Spano announced plans yesterday that they said would protect police officers from fatal gas tank explosions that have plagued the nation’s most popular patrol car.

But critics, including the head of the New York state police union, said the demonstration was little more than a publicity stunt, and, even if the technology does work, it won’t be available until the 2005 model year.

"We believe our troopers are driving ticking time bombs, and today’s announcement did nothing to change that for at least the next two years," said Daniel De Federicis, president of the state troopers Police Benevolent Association. "They’re basically stalling and deflecting criticism."

Spano and Ford officials unveiled a fire-suppression system that will be offered for Crown Victoria Police Interceptors based on U.S. military technology. The system is essentially an automatic fire extinguisher installed in the vehicle, which discharges chemicals after a crash. It is designed to temporarily repel flames and give officers enough time to get out of their vehicles safely.

"This represents a major first step in reducing fuel tank fires that have, unfortunately, taken the lives of officers across the country," said Spano, R-Yonkers, whose Senate Committee on Investigations began probing Crown Victorias after a Dec. 19 collision and explosion that killed Trooper Robert Ambrose in Yonkers.

Lt. Col. James Schepperly, who is in charge of the state police uniform force, hailed Ford’s new system as "very promising."

Several lawsuits have been filed against Ford, alleging the vehicles have a design flaw that can result in gas tanks exploding in rear-end collisions. Nationally, 16 police officers have died since 1983 after they were trapped in Police Interceptors that caught fire.

Paul Ambrose, the trooper’s brother, said his family was still pursuing its $250 million lawsuit against the automaker.

"They come up with more and more things to make what they call a ‘safe car’ safer," he said. "After my brother’s death, another trooper was killed, and three other vehicles burst into flames when they were hit from behind. I think they should just take those cars off the road."

Ambrose, a resident of Pearl River, was assigned to the Tarrytown barracks and had pulled to the side of the Thruway while investigating a minor car accident when another vehicle struck his from behind. Two others were killed in the crash.

In the weeks after Ambrose’ death, Spano urged police agencies throughout the state to suspend purchases of Crown Victorias while the troopers’ union called on Ford to use state-of-the-art technology to address the safety concerns.

Since then, the entire fleet of 800 state police cruisers has been retrofitted with a plastic shield designed to reduce gas tank explosions, and protective boxes were installed in the trunks to try to keep loose items from striking the tank in crashes.

Ford developed the new system with Aerojet, a military supplier. The car manufacturer held its news conference at Central Park’s Tavern on the Green, displaying models of the new system on the patio and detonating a chemical-spewing canister in the parking lot.

"The potential of a fuel leak, while rare, is part of the risk of every high-speed accident," said Sue Cischke, Ford’s vice president of environmental and safety engineering. "Therefore, we believe the actions we are taking to introduce fire-suppression technology will help save lives."

While Spano called this a "monumental day for law enforcement across the country," his brother, Leonard Spano Jr., president of the Westchester County police PBA, was reserving judgment until the new system is proven. He was also concerned about the potential cost, which Ford has yet to reveal.

"If it costs more than $2,000, I don’t see how municipalities are going to approve it," said Leonard Spano, watching the demonstration.

The debate over how to make the vehicles safer will continue.

De Federicis said Ford’s trunk boxes were dangerous because they could crush the tank on impact. He said Ford can make an immediate difference by retrofitting its cruisers with protective "bladders" inside the gas tanks to help prevent rupturing.

Ford officials noted that NASCAR recently banned bladders because they increase pressure on the tanks.

Rockland PBA President Brent Newbury, a police officer in Orangetown, referred to yesterday’s announcement as "lip service" for now, but said it should be mandatory if it works. It should also be installed immediately, if it’s available, he said.

"The 2005 model is two years away and, at this rate, six more police officers are going to die because of the problems with the Crown Vic," he said.

Staff writer Steve Lieberman contributed to this report.