By Chief Warrant Officer 4 Lewis Blase
It had been a long drive, but my destination was now less than an hour away. I was on the second day of a roughly 11-hour road trip to my new assignment at Fort Polk, Louisiana. The day had been filled with frustrating delays thanks to waking up late that morning, traffic jams and long lines at gas stations. Every delay seemed worse than it actually was, and my mid-afternoon arrival time had slipped to early evening. The sun was beginning to set when, finally, I felt my trip was coming to an end. That’s when it — a blown tire — happened.
I could feel my SUV pulling to the right as the road noise grew louder. Because my vehicle was less than a year old, my supervisor gave it only a quick inspection before I took off. That’s not to say we pencil-whipped it, but we definitely didn’t look all that hard for problems.
I pulled into the right-side emergency lane. Luckily, I was on a four-way divided road, so traffic could get over if needed. Not that there was any traffic now, late as it was on a Tuesday afternoon. If I hurried, I had just enough daylight left to change the tire before it got dark. And that was important because there weren’t any streetlights and I didn’t have a flashlight. If I didn’t fix it quickly, I’d have to wait for a tow truck, delaying my trip even more.
I turned on my flashers and headlights, checked my rear and side-view mirrors for approaching traffic and climbed out. I circled around the front of my SUV and saw the right-front tire was flat, sitting on the rim. Rather than spending a lot of time looking for the leak, I got the jack handle and lug wrench from the back of the SUV and crawled underneath to drop the spare tire. It was dirty, but it was full of air and didn’t show any signs of dry rot or damage.
I quickly rolled the spare next to the flat tire. I then positioned the jack under the vehicle frame at what looked like the most secure and logical spot. I’d changed several tires in the past, so I thought this wouldn’t be any different. The jack had a label stating, “WARNING: Consult owner’s manual before use.” I disregarded the warning and raised the jack just enough to contact the jack point on the vehicle. I then grabbed the lug wrench, turned the nuts loose and jacked up the vehicle so I could pull off the flat and slip on the spare.
I’d taken off the lug nuts from the flat and was starting to remove it when my SUV leaned forward on the jack, bending it beneath the vehicle’s weight. Instantly, I grabbed the spare tire and slid it beneath the wheel hub, barely making it before the jack gave way. I quickly jumped back, expecting my SUV to continue rolling forward and to the right. Fortunately, it stayed right there.
What had happened? Because I’d been in such a hurry, I’d forgotten to set the emergency brake. Between that and the vehicle’s weight shifting as I removed the flat, the jack began leaning and gravity did the rest. I called a tow company and an hour and a half later, the SUV was ready to go again.
What I thought was an easy task turned out to be an accident waiting to happen. Complacency and being in a hurry can have tragic consequences. All it took for me to avoid that danger was to slow down, take a step back and apply risk management. The hazards — including the approaching darkness, sloping roadway and failing to follow the recommended directions for the jack — could all have been identified. Had I read how to change a tire in the owner’s manual, it would have reminded me to apply the emergency brake. Just the loss of daylight alone without having any artificial light available should have made calling a wrecker a no-brainer.
Even when the task seems easy and routine, taking a step back and looking at the larger picture can save you time and, in worst-case scenarios, from getting hurt. A long time ago someone came up with the saying, “Haste makes waste.” That’s a piece of wisdom that still applies today.
(Editor’s note: Blase is with the U.S. Army Europe, G3 Aviation in Wiesbaden, Germany.)