Ford Ambulance/Van Fuel-Fed Fires

Ford Ambulance/Van Fuel-Fed Fires

Fires attributed to engine coolant leaks and gasoline leaks resulting from overpressurized fuel and subsequent "spurting" of hot fuel from the fuel tank filler neck in Ford ambulances and vans with dual fuel tanks have resulted in several recalls and lawsuits since 1986. Excess heat from the engine compartment and exhaust system cause fuel to boil in the gas tank. The pressure generated by heated gasoline causes vapor lock, fuel foaming and fuel expulsion from the tank. High volatility gasoline worsens the problem.

Based on dozens of reports of overpressurized fuel, including 16 fires and 5 burn injuries from the Center for Auto Safety and local emergency services around the country, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) in June 1986 opened a preliminary investigation (PE86-58) into fires and fuel spurting in 1984-86 Ford Econoline E-350 ambulance conversion vehicles. By August of 1986, with hot summer weather exacerbating the fuel pressure problem, NHTSA was receiving daily reports of fuel spurting from the fuel filler neck in Econoline E-350 ambulances. By September, NHTSA had expanded its investigation to include 680,000 1978-86 Ford E-150, E 250 and E-350 vans with duel gas tanks. (E-350 vans are converted into ambulances by second stage manufacturers.) A month later NHTSA upgraded its PE to an engineering analysis, but limited the scope to 1984-86 E-350s. In January of 1987, the Center for Auto Safety petitioned for a defect investigation and recall for all 1984-86 E-150, 250, and 350 regular production (non-ambulance) vans and chassis with dual fuel tanks. NHTSA agreed to recall 7,000 1980-86 E-350 ambulance in February 1987 and expanded its EA on ambulances to include 1980-83 E-350 dual fuel tank ambulances.

Under pressure from the Virginia Attorney General, who issued a national alert to ambulance operators based on fires in Virginia ambulances responding to emergencies where operators and patients were injured by fuel spurting fires, NHTSA announced a recall of 11,000 1983-87 Econoline vans used as ambulances in April 1987. NHTSA also agreed to CAS' request to open an engineering analysis of non-ambulance Econoline vans. Ford averted a lawsuit by the Virginia Attorney General by agreeing to conduct a nationwide service campaign to repair 22,000 1983-87 ambulances.

The summer of 1987 saw another resurgence of Ford ambulance fires, with the city of Cincinnati suspending use of half its fleet after one vehicle was destroyed by fire. A similar incident in Kentucky led Jefferson County, KY to stop using its ambulances, while the Missouri Attorney General threatened Ford with a lawsuit after an ambulance fire in St. Louis injured 3 people. The Florida Attorney General also requested an investigation into Ford ambulance fires. An overnight hearing by the House Energy and Commerce Committee focused on Ford ambulance fires in June 1987. Later that month, CAS, the American Ambulance Association, the International Association of Fire Chiefs and the National Association of State Emergency Medical Service Directors called on NHTSA to conclude its investigation and issue a defect determination.

In September 1987, Ford announced a recall of all 1983-87 E-250 and E-350 Club Wagons and Econoline vans and chassis equipped with 7.5 liter engines and 1985 1/2 - 1987 heavy duty E-250 and E-350 vans with 5.8 liter engines and gross vehicle weight ratings over 8,500 pounds. Ford E-150 vans were not included in the recall. However, a full six months passed before Ford sent recall notices to van owners.

Safety concerns continued as CAS filed a defect investigation petition with NHTSA regarding ambulance engine coolant fires, calling for the recall of 16,000 1983-87 Ford E-350 ambulances in May 1988. Later that same month, NHTSA opened a preliminary investigation into 1984-87 E-150 vans for fuel spurting and fires, which were not included in the September 1987 recall.
In July 1988, CAS urged DOT to expedite the van recall, as only 30% of the recalled Ford vans had been repaired by July 1, 10 months after the recall was initiated. A month later, in August 1988, Ford announced another recall of 15,000 ambulances based on 1983-87 Econoline E-250 and E-350 chassis and vans to replace the engine compartment heater hoses.


grey Line