Cruisers to be fitted with new safety panels

By Denise Dick
The Vindicator

Thursday, June 5, 2008

BOARDMAN Township police officers have another line of defense against injury during rear-end cruiser collisions.

The department bought 10 vehicular fire protection systems, called FIRE Panels, to install over the gas tanks of the Ford Crown Victoria cruisers. Each panel, a polymer shell containing a fire suppression powder, costs $495. The money is coming from the department's Law Enforcement Trust Fund, cash seized during drug and other investigations.

My goal is to get all of our Crown Victorias fitted with them,Chief Patrick Berarducci said of the department's 32 Fords.

The action was prompted by a crash last November that left Austintown Police Officer Ross Linert critically injured.

Linert suffered burns to much of his body when his cruiser was rear-ended on Meridian Road at Interstate 680 by another car driven by Adrien N. Foutz, 22, of Girard.

Foutz was charged with aggravated vehicular assault and a city prosecutor has said her blood-alcohol concentration was three times the legal driving limit. The officer is recovering at home.

A benefit car show is planned from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Sunday at Home Depot, Mahoning Avenue, Austintown, to help defray Linert's expenses. Store personnel organized the benefit.

Those attending the car show can see driver Tony Stewart's No. 20 car, buy T-shirts, food and Chinese auction tickets that will go directly to benefit Linert's family. There is no admission charge.

Austintown Police Chief Bob Gavalier said the fire panels were installed on all of that department's cruisers earlier this year in response to Linert's accident. Gavalier then shared his research about the product with Berarducci and other area police departments.

Before Ross's accident happened, I wasn't aware of the problem, Berarducci said. It just wasn't on my radar screen.

The panels are the second step to address the problem.

The department previously installed protective Kevlar trunk shields in each cruiser to prevent items in the trunk from piercing the rear wall and going into the gas tank.

The newest device goes a step further.

In the case of a rear-end crash where the fuel tank ruptures, the same impact that ruptures the tank shatters the panel, expelling a cloud of fire suppressing powder, the chief said.

The panels also can be removed from one cruiser and installed in another one, making them more cost-effective than some other options on the market, Berarducci said.

Michael Carkido, Boardman Township police mechanic, said each panel takes about an hour to install.

The Crown Victoria is the No. 1-rated police patrol vehicle in terms of safety, Carkido said. “This is just making the best police vehicle better.