Stop the Shock
SGT. 1ST CLASS JASON POWELL
Headquarters and Headquarters Company
404th Maneuver Enhancement Brigade
Illinois Army National Guard
During my first few years in the Army, I was stationed at Fort Hood, Texas, with Bravo Company, 615th Aviation Support Battalion. Bravo Company was the ground support for the aviation battalion, and I was assigned to the motor pool section. At the time, the motor pool was backlogged with late services and equipment in need of minor repairs. The motor sergeant met with the platoon and briefed us on how far behind the section was. He told us we’d be working late nights — and possibly weekends — to clear the backlog.
As a young Soldier just out of high school, my free time in the evenings and on weekends was of high importance to me. Without a doubt, it was much more important than being stuck at the motor pool at night. I had a social life and found a new hobby in throwing darts. I’d even joined a Thursday night dart league, which was actually pretty good. Missing Thursday night darts was not an option if I could help it. So I wouldn’t let either of my teams down, I was given permission to work through lunch on Thursdays so I could be released at 1700.
One Thursday, I was told to complete an annual service on an M939A1 fifth-wheel semi-truck. Every bay in the motor pool was being used for repairs, which meant I would have to conduct this service in the parking lot. One of the tasks to complete the service is to inspect and lubricate the rear wheel bearings. This is one of the last steps, but it is time consuming. I’d been working on this truck since 0700, and by the time I got to this task, it was 1130 and everyone was being released for lunch.
Shortly after everyone left, I prepared to remove the truck’s passenger-side rear wheels, with the driver’s side to follow. I then began to apply the safety measures to make sure this task was completed correctly and safely. I backed up the truck so all of the wheels were out of the rocks for a smooth working surface. I then corrected the floor jack and jack stands for the vehicle weight. They both were current on their load testing. With the truck’s rear raised — supported on jack stands, front wheels chocked, vehicle in park and emergency brake applied — I was certain all safety measures were met. But were they?
This particular truck has rear tandem duals, which means each side of each rear axle had two tires connected together. This dual-wheel assembly weighs nearly 500 pounds. To safely and easily remove these wheels, a wheel dolly is the preferred tool. I had the dolly in place under the wheels and jacked it up just enough to apply slight pressure. I then removed the lug nuts from the axle and continued to raise the dolly until the dual wheels were off the ground.
Once the duals were off the ground, I pulled on the dolly to remove the wheels. The dolly’s wheels must have gotten stuck on an object because it became hard to move, so I repositioned myself to have a better, stronger angle to pull. However, when I repositioned myself, I put my leg between the dolly and the wheel assembly. When I made a final effort to move the dolly, the wheel assembly slipped forward, pinning my leg.
On this dolly, there was a ¾- to 1-inch brace bar running across the backside. With the weight of the tires, the bar was causing severe pain in my leg and limiting my ability to do anything about it. With everyone at lunch, I was afraid I was going to lose my leg by the time help arrived. Luckily, a co-worker arrived about 15 minutes later and ran over to help. She attempted to lift the wheels off of me, but they were too heavy. As she tried to push on the wheels, the dolly moved and dragged me with it. My co-worker ran to get help, and she and another Soldier were eventually able to free my leg.
I was rushed to the medical center because it looked like my leg was cut to the bone. Fortunately, the skin wasn’t actually cut, just indented very deeply. However, the way the tires landed on my leg caused major damage to the joint at the knee.
Even though I thought I applied all of the safety measures I needed to complete the service on the truck, I still suffered an injury that removed me from operations. I should have taken my time that day and used the buddy system rather than working alone. Who knows what might have happened had my co-worker not come back early from lunch. Since that day, I’ve never taken safety for granted just to complete a job. After all, what good is that free time if you’re too injured to enjoy it?