Invention prevents car fires after rear-impact crashes

Invention prevents car fires after rear-impact crashes

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PHOENIX -

How often have you been rear-ended on the freeway or the surface streets? It happens all the time. Especially worrisome are high-speed rear impact crashes. They can be deadly, especially if the gas tank explodes.

But a Scottsdale company thinks it has the answer to that and much more. A company called Firetrace makes what they call a Fire Panel. It's designed to save lives on the street and the battlefield.

IED and grenade attacks have killed or injured thousands of U.S. soldiers and Marines in Afghanistan and Iraq, especially after insurgents started targeting vehicle gas tanks.

Mark Cavanaugh is the Senior Vice President of Firetrace. He said, "Our first contract was on heavy tactical trucks' protection of 100 gallon fuel tanks."

Fire Panel is now used to protect thousands of military vehicles. "I think we are on roughly 30,000 to 35,000 vehicles."

But Firetrace first came up with the idea after a series of accidents involving police cars. "In the 2002 time frame, there were some incidents related to the Crown Victoria police interceptor," Cavanaugh said.

Authorities were concerned about the Ford vehicles exploding in rear-end collisions. Especially after Phoenix police officer Jason Schechterle was badly burned when his car was rear-ended in 2001.

"They said there was no technology known to man which could solve this. We took that challenge and we developed something we called the Fire Panel," Cavanaugh said.

The Firetrace Fire Panel is a plastic shell that's attached to a gas tank. "You can install it in about 15 minutes and you just attach it right to the fuel tank." The Fire Panel is filled with a fire retardant powder by workers inside the company's Scottsdale plant.

The panels fit the shape of a gas tank or gas tank shield. "And then you can shape that plastic to fit anything," Cavanaugh said.

In a Firetrace test, a rocket sled launched two cars at two different parked police cruisers. One car without the Fire Panel exploded, the other with the Fire Panel did not. The powdered fire suppressant surrounded the car and prevented any fire from starting. "It will shatter," Cavanaugh said. "And it does shatter like safety glass and when it breaks apart the dry chemical agents that are within those channels immediately goes up into suspension and it inerts the space around the fuel tank."

Firetrace offered to sell its panels to Ford, but Firetrace said the automaker would not accept it. So, Firetrace started selling them directly to police agencies across the country. "We have about 50,000 Crown Victoria Interceptors now covered throughout the U.S. protecting police officers," Cavanaugh said.

But not everyone went for the fire panel idea.

At first, the Arizona Department of Public Safety decided to go with a new Ford fire suppression system instead.

But then there was an accident in the Tucson area. On June 3, 2009, Faith Mascolino, a mother of five, was pulled over by DPS for suspected drunk driving. A second officer arrived to assist. Both drove Ford Crown Victoria Police Interceptors, and Moscolino was arrested and put in the back seat of the second patrol car.

"Someone fell asleep on the highway," Cavanaugh said. "And rear-ended the second Crown Victoria police interceptor that she was in. It burst into flames."

Moscolino was killed. Neither of the officers was hurt, but both patrol cars burned, and both were equipped with the Ford fire suppression system.

"Within 30 days the Arizona DPS was contacting us and we are now on their vehicles as well," Cavanaugh said.

Arizona DPS officer Carrick Cook told FOX 10 News that they installed the fire panels in all 550 of the agency's Crown Victoria Interceptors in 2009. Cook said, "This system was retrofitted on every single serviced Crown Victoria in our fleet throughout the entire state, whether it had the Ford fire suppression system or not, it was installed for us."

Most DPS cars have the Ford system as well, and a rear-bumper hitch for added safety. "We take a lot of pride to make sure our officers go home at the end of the day," Cook said.

Ford stopped making the Crown Victoria Police Interceptor in 2011, and DPS is phasing them out with a new Ford Interceptor, a bulked up Ford Explorer. "They include things like a special linter to protect the gas tank, similar to a motorcycle helmet," Cook said.

But the old Crown Victoria Police Interceptors will be around for a while. "I wouldn't be surprised if Crown Vics are going to be around for 10-plus years," Cook said.

And whether it's for military transports like the MRAP or DPS Crown Victoria police cars, the Arizona-made Fire Panel is there, waiting, for that day no one wants to think about.

"We feel a lot better about what we are driving down the road," Cook said.

"Once it's on there you don't have to think about it at all," Cavanaugh said. "It's there waiting for an accident."

Now, Firetrace is offering its Fire Panel to Chrysler after the government requested a recall of thousands of Jeeps for rear impact fires back in June.

"We have reached out to Chrysler and we are in hopes they will embrace our technology."

So far, Chrysler has offered to install rear trailer hitches on 2002 to 2007 Jeep Liberties and 1993 to 1998 Jeep Grand Cherokees to help protect the gas tank in rear impact collisions.

And it considers the matter closed, saying, "Chrysler and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration have resolved their difference with respect to the request to recall Grand Cherokee and Jeep Liberty models."

Chrysler added that its "analysis of the data confirms that these vehicles are not defective and are among the safest in the peer group."

But according to the NHTSA, "The investigation remains open pending completion of the agency's review of the remedy announced by Chrysler." That would be the hitch idea.

Adding, "as part of its review the agency will determine whether addition action is warranted."

The NHTSA says 51 people have died in Jeep rear impact or rollover gas tank fires involving Jeep Grand Cherokees and Jeep Liberties between 1998 and 2011.

As far as Fire Panel goes, Chrysler tells FOX 10 News it is not considering such a system.

Online:

www.firetrace.com
www.nhtsa.gov
www.chrysler.com
www.azdps.gov

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