March 5, 2004
BY SARAH A. WEBSTER
FREE PRESS BUSINESS WRITER
Ford Motor Co., which is being sued by dozens of cities and counties over the safety of its Crown Victoria police cars, said Thursday it will not pay for the fire suppression systems the City of Dallas plans to install on 775 of their police cars.
Dallas, one of the cities suing Ford, announced at a news conference that it would begin modifying the vehicles because of its concerns.
An investigation in December by the Detroit Free Press found that 30 people, including 18 police officers, died between 1992 and 2001 in fiery rear-impact crashes in the Crown Victoria. Since 1999, at least four of the Dallas Police Department’s Crown Victorias were involved in high-speed rear crashes, including one that killed Officer Patrick Metzler in 2002.
So Dallas officials said they would install a plastic panel filled with fire suppression powder over the rear of the fuel tank, between the tank and rear axle. In a rear crash, the axle or other components would shatter the panel, releasing a cloud of powder that would prevent a fire.
The work will cost the city about $271,000, and Dallas City Attorney Madeleine Johnson said the city would seek reimbursement from Ford because it believes the retrofit is necessary.
Ford spokeswoman Kristen Kinley said the company has no confidence in the system and won’t pay for it. She said environmental conditions such as rain can interfere with its effectiveness, and the powder is released upon impact, even though most fires begin after the vehicle has come to rest.
Ford is developing its own liquid-based fire suppression system. The automaker says it can be deployed when fires are more likely to start and is more resistant to environmental conditions. That system is to be available on the 2005 Crown Victoria Police Interceptors.
\"We believe this system will be more effective,\" Kinley said.
The new fire-suppression system option will be integrated into the architecture of the new Crown Victorias. Consequently, Kinley said, it will not be possible to retrofit older models.
Ford has already offered police two modifications to improve the rear-impact safety of their Crown Victorias.