Police department pulls 12 Ford SUVs after officers sickened by carbon monoxide exposure

PHOTO: A photo of one of the two vehicles involved in an earlier crash involving a police officer who was suffering exposure to carbon monoxide while operating his 2017 Ford Explorer Police Interceptor, Aug. 2, 2017, in Auburn, Mass.PlayAuburn Police Department
WATCH 60 police Ford SUVs taken off the street

A police officer in Massachusetts has been hospitalized and is in stable condition after he passed out from unsafe exposure to carbon monoxide while behind the wheel of his patrol vehicle, according to the Auburn Police Department. The officer is one of three in the department who have recently been hospitalized after such exposure.

Authorities said they believed the officer, whom they would not identify, had been exposed to high levels of the gas. At the time, he was driving a 2017 Ford Explorer police cruiser. Ford is pushing back on the department's claim that the officer's incapacitation was a result of carbon monoxide poisoning.

According to Auburn Police Chief Andrew Sluckis, at 11 a.m. on Wednesday the officer was on patrol with his windows up and the air-conditioning system on when he radioed for a supervisor. Sluckis answered the call and the officer reported that he'd passed out, hit a vehicle in front of him and ended up in a church parking lot across the street.

“He’s lucky he wasn’t on a highway, is what he is,” Sluckis said.

The officer was transported to a hospital. Sluckis said the fire department then tested all police vehicles and officers and found the officer's vehicle showed a reading of 13 parts per million. He said readings should say zero.

Ford said in a statement to ABC News, "It’s premature to draw conclusions from what happened today in Auburn after reports of carbon monoxide at levels of 13 parts per million in the vehicle."

A reading of 13 parts per million should not have caused the officer to be sickened, Ford said.

"According to the Massachusetts Environmental Affairs, ‘Most people do not begin to feel the effects of carbon monoxide poisoning until they have been exposed to levels of at least 200 parts per million for several hours or more.’ Given this discrepancy, more investigating is required," according to the statement.

Auburn police announced Wednesday evening that a third unidentified Auburn officer has been hospitalized for suspected carbon monoxide exposure.

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Testing of other cars, Sluckis said, showed some readings in the single digits and some as high as 39 parts and 40 parts per million.

Of a fleet of 28 vehicles, 12 were removed, he said. This includes two vehicles issued to the assistant fire chief and the public works director. All vehicles were Ford Explorers, ranging from 2014-2017 models.

Sluckis said previously the department had not had any complaints from officers. Carbon monoxide detectors will be installed in every vehicle in the fleet, Sluckis said, and officers will be told to leave the air off, roll their windows down, and if the new carbon monoxide detectors go off, they should pull over and have the vehicle towed.

Today's incident is the latest in a series of troubling incidents involving late-model Ford police SUVs.

In Texas, the Austin Police Department pulled all 446 of its Ford sport utility vehicles off the streets after it had installed carbon monoxide detectors and its officers continued to report getting sick from fumes.

"It really was a risk assessment," Austin City Manager Elaine Hart said at a recent news conference. "We needed to work through the investigations, get the federal agencies down here again, but it was one of protection of our employees and a risk assessment. We just couldn't go forward without taking some action at this time."

Ford Motor Co. has said that the modifications made to police SUVs -- such as holes drilled to install police equipment -- are the cause of the problem. It has said it will fix all police cars experiencing issues.

Ford and National Highway Transportation Safety Administration officials are sending investigators to Auburn.

"Safety is our top priority and we are concerned for those involved. We are working with the Auburn Police Department and have a team in Massachusetts on the way to inspect their vehicles and modifications made to them," Ford said in a statement.

ABC News' Whitney Lloyd, Erin Dooley, Matt German and William Gretsky contributed to this story.