Gas leak cause of Georgia patrol car fire

Morris News Service
Vehicles retrofitted to run on propane sit in June outside the Force 911 garage in Jefferson. Force 911, the company that makes the propane-conversion kits, is involved in the investigation of a retrofitted patrol car that was destroyed by fire.
  • Follow Latest News

The fire that destroyed a propane-fueled Jackson County sheriff's patrol cruiser Monday was caused by a misplaced vapor barrier,  designed to keep propane fumes from leaking into the car's passenger compartment.

Investigators don't know what happened to the vapor barrier or an associated fitting, though they believe it was left unsecured after routine maintenance, a spokesman for the Jackson County Sheriff's Office said Thursday.

Workers will inspect all 62 propane-fueled patrol cars to make sure they are safe, said Chief Deputy David Cochran.

"This is definitely an isolated incident," said John Franklin, senior engineer for propane system provider American Alternative Fuel. "The disengagement of the system's safety features is something that all safety training moving forward will address emphatically.

"The good news is that the operator of the vehicle sustained only minor injuries, that the problem doesn't lie with the equipment or installation," Franklin said.

The fire broke out about 6:30 a.m. Monday while Deputy Gary Cox drove along Dry Pond Road north of Jefferson on his way to a call. He lit a cigarette and the interior of the cruiser caught fire.

Cox escaped with first-degree burns to his face and arms. He was treated at Athens Regional Medical Center and released later that day. He has not returned to work, Cochran said.

Over the last four days, engineers and propane system installers have inspected the burned car to find what caused the leak.

When converting a police car, contractors install a bullet-resistant propane tank in the trunk, then connect it to a component that uses heat from the car engine to vaporize the liquid propane and inject the gaseous fuel into the engine cylinders.

The vapor barrier, which was not in place on Cox's car, is a nonporous hood that fits over the propane tank's nozzles and valves, and vents any fumes outside of the car, according to Cochran.

Someone failed to replace it properly during maintenance or when they refilled the tank, and consequently propane fumes slowly began to leak into the car. There also was a fitting on the tank that had not been replaced properly after maintenance.

Both the sheriff's office and Force 911, the Pendergrass company that installed the system, perform maintenance on the cars so investigators have no idea who removed the vapor barrier, Cochran said.

"We don't how the vapor cover got off of those tanks," he said. "But we are now inspecting all of our vehicles to make sure the barriers are there and that we don't have the same problem on any of the other tanks."

Monday's fire is the first problem the sheriff's office has had with the cars since they started to convert their fleet to run on both propane and gasoline. The office discontinued the use of the propane systems after the fire and will not start using them again until all the cars have been inspected.

Deputies, who prefer propane-fueled cars for their fast acceleration, were hesitant to get back into the vehicles until they knew exactly what happened in Cox's car, Cochran said.

The department also will change its maintenance regimen to make sure the cars are safe. Administrators also have barred deputies from smoking in their patrol cruisers, which was not against the sheriff's policies until now.

Comments (7) Add comment
ADVISORY: Users are solely responsible for opinions they post here and for following agreed-upon rules of civility. Posts and comments do not reflect the views of this site. Posts and comments are automatically checked for inappropriate language, but readers might find some comments offensive or inaccurate. If you believe a comment violates our rules, click the "Flag as offensive" link below the comment.
wribbs
436
Points
wribbs 10/29/10 - 06:13 am
0
0
Cop: "I smell gas in here,

Cop: "I smell gas in here, wonder what I should do?"
Cop: " I think I'll light a cigarette and think this thing over."
BOOM!!!!

Taylor B
5
Points
Taylor B 10/29/10 - 07:54 am
0
0
As an auto technician you

As an auto technician you have lives in your hands with every turn of the wrench. Someone taking a shortcut almost killed someone. Luckily do one else was in the car. Glad to see this technology isn't the cause. CNG and propane technology is a good alternative to gas, along with biodiesel.

airbud7
1
Points
airbud7 10/29/10 - 07:54 am
0
0
Under certain circumstances,

Under certain circumstances, the odorant in propane gas may oxidize and lose it's distinctive odor. This odor fade can occur in new steel containers when first placed into service and in older steel containers that have been left open to the atmosphere. Not all people are able to detect the presence of the propane's odorant. Physical conditions such as competing odors, colds, flus, allergies, or SMOKING may diminish a person's ability to detect the odorant.

ss30809
44
Points
ss30809 10/29/10 - 09:01 am
0
0
Why would you light a

Why would you light a cigarette in a propane car any way?

gnumbgnuts
0
Points
gnumbgnuts 10/29/10 - 03:09 pm
0
0
ss, they work better lit.

ss, they work better lit.

Pu239
284
Points
Pu239 10/29/10 - 08:57 pm
0
0
To steal a quote from Hank
Unpublished

To steal a quote from Hank Hill.....What we have here is a PROPANE EMERGENCY. On a serious note, it's good that the injuries were not worse.

And I have to ask....is it any different from lighting a cigarette in a gasoline powered car?

egan01
0
Points
egan01 10/29/10 - 09:03 pm
0
0
If the system leaks enough

If the system leaks enough propane to need a vapor vent it is a vary poorly designed system.

Taylor B
5
Points
Taylor B 10/30/10 - 10:37 am
0
0
Egan, I was thinking the same

Egan, I was thinking the same thing.

Back to Top

Top headlines

Georgia to monitor potential Ebola travelers

The new screening comes on the heels of a decision to funnel all of the travelers from Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone to one of five airports where CDC and airports are conducting enhanced ...
Search Augusta jobs