It was just another tip, one of hundreds of leads in the life of a journalist. But in pursuing it, Anna Werner, investigative reporter for Houston's CBS affiliate KHOU, has saved countless lives. On Feb. 7, after being tipped off by a Texas lawyer about a wrongful death case in which a woman was killed after the tread separated from a Firestone tire on her Ford Explorer, Werner aired a segment reporting that the tires had been blamed in as many as 30 similar incidents nationwide. "The response was overwhelming," says Werner, 36. "We had all these viewers saying, 'I think this happened to me too.' "

The story was picked up by the national media, Congress launched an investigation, and on Aug. 9 Bridgestone-Firestone announced the recall of three tire models; eventually 6.5 million tires went back to the company. While testifying before Congress in September, Ford CEO Jacques Nasser claimed that Bridgestone-Firestone hadn't been forthcoming with the auto maker about the defects and promised to immediately replace the tires on all Explorers. He also acknowledged the reporting done by Werner and her investigative team—producer David Raziq and photojournalist Chris Henao. "They deserve a medal," he said. In November President Clinton signed into law stricter tire-and-vehi-cle-recall guidelines. Says U.S. Rep. Billy Tauzin (R-La.), who cosponsored the bill: "There are people alive today who wouldn't be if Anna Werner hadn't pursued that story."

Perhaps even Werner herself. The Firestone tires on her news team's vehicle—a Ford Explorer—were replaced by KHOU after the recall. Werner, who was raised in Barrington, I11., and is married to a computer engineer, is known for her no-nonsense persona—so much so that image consultants have exhorted her to act more chipper. She is also known for her humanity. Although Werner and her crew won three Emmy awards for the tire exposé, she is quick to share credit with victims, legislators, consumer advocates and, in particular, the media. "I hope this will help people realize the importance of journalists," she says. "Journalists are the reason this story came to life."