Chariots under fire

Trends in armored vehicles reflect security concerns in a post-9/11 SWAT force


     The agency does not have any armored vehicles, nor are its squad cars equipped with ballistic protection. But what they did decide to install — thanks to concerns over rear-end collisions involving the Ford Crown Victorial Police Interceptor (CVPI) and fires resulting from ruptured gas tanks — is a fire suppression system in the form of a panel that mounts to the fuel tank.

     "There had been a number of CVPI collisions across the country where fire was a result. In Dallas, [an] officer was killed in a CVPI fire after being rammed while on a traffic stop. The objective is to try to provide more protection and a few seconds of time in order to let the deputy get away from the wreckage," says Six.

     Scott Starr, marketing manager for FIRE Panel LLC, a Scottsdale, Arizona-based provider of the fire suppression system, says that it's common for an incident to drive demand. Another factor is the ever-increasing danger officers face on the roadways.

     "The biggest challenge [for law enforcement] is the relative size of the other vehicles on the road," Starr says. "With so many larger SUVs traveling at such high speeds, the opportunity for a high-speed, high-energy impact is greater today than in recent years."

     FIRE Panel protects against fires resulting from high-speed, rear-end impacts, an event that Starr says has resulted in the deaths of more than 20 officers in the last several years. The system, which mounts to the front side of the fuel tank, consists of a polymer panel that encapsulates fire-suppression powder. In the event of a rear-impact collision that compromises the gas tanks, the panel shatters and releases the powder, helping to prevent or stall a fire.

     "It weighs only 11 pounds and can be mounted to any CVPI, new or existing, so that entire fleets can be immediately protected," Starr says. Installation takes only about 20 minutes and requires no changes or dismantling of the car, he adds.

     All of Tarrant County's 25 CVPIs have been outfitted with trunk packs and retardant panels, says Six.

     "We've had two significant collisions where [CVPIs] were struck from the rear, but neither resulted in a fire," says Six. "One was before the panels and one after, but neither had a gas tank rupture, [although] the second one did break the fire retardant panel, as it should have."

A multitude of fortified forces

     Alpine Armoring Inc., a Herndon, Virginia-based company, manufactures the Bulldog X, which is the largest SWAT vehicle on the market, says Khoroushi. It has a stands 117 inches tall, has a length of 321 inches and a width of 93 inches, ranging from 26,000 to 33,000 pounds.

     The Bulldog X runs on a 6.4-liter diesel Mercedes Benz 900 engine, that delivers 210 horsepower. It offers protection on all sides against high-powered rifles. The vehicle has a revolving gun turret (with camera), four gun ports, suicide doors, large rear-door opening, and an escape hatch. The AR 500 steel surface is 0.5-inch thick, with glass/polycarbonate parts measuring 55mm thick, and features an armored fuel tank and battery compartment.

     "It offers seating for a 16-member crew with room to stand up," says Khoroushi. "This is a unique feature in the industry; a very high-protection, Level A10 armored truck that offers so much room and still sells for under $200,000."

     DefensTech International Inc., a company in Huntington Beach, California, manufactures ballistic armoring for vehicles, personnel and structures. DefensTech technologies optimize blast mitigation, says marketing manager Chris Thompson.

     One such product is Defend-X Ballistic Resistant Door Panels, which won Cygnus Law Enforcement Group's 2006 Innovation Award for vehicle safety.

     "The panels are designed to provide a ballistic-resistant and blast mitigating shield behind which law enforcement officers can take cover during a life-threatening encounter," explains Thompson.

     The panels are available in threat level III-A ballistic protection, which measure less than .5 inch thick and weigh less than 20 pounds per door. The doors are currently — or will soon be — available for the Chevy Impala, Dodge Charger, Ford Crown Vic and Chevy Tahoe. Threat level III and IV panels are available upon request. The company's bolt-on surface mount system allows for quick installation requiring minimal tools, says Thompson.

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