A firefighter took a promotion exam just 12 hours after giving birth because of a state law requiring all promotion candidates to be tested at once.
Beda Kent gave birth Jan. 10, slept for a little more than two hours and popped some painkillers before taking the exam. She scored 104 out of 110 and expects to return from maternity leave in March as a captain with a $6,000 raise.
“I wanted that promotion,” Kent said of the job she had sought for two years. “I feel I was overdue for this promotion.”
When she was six months’ pregnant, Kent learned the test would be given on Jan. 11 — just four days after her due date.
She asked if a proctor could administer the exam at the hospital if necessary, but was told there could be no exceptions, except for firefighters on active military duty.
Kent’s doctor tried to induce labor on Jan. 4, but discovered doing so could cause complications and force a Caesarean birth, with a longer recovery that would take away from Kent’s time to study.
After her daughter was born, Kent left the infant named Brina Sue at the hospital within hours.
Ambulance on standby
Houston Fire Chief Phil Boriskie had an ambulance on standby at the test site in case Kent needed it, she said.
“After a while, it did get to be uncomfortable, and thank God they did give us 2½ hours to take the test because I had to readjust and refocus,” Kent said.
After the exam, Kent’s insurance did not allow her to be readmitted to the hospital so she and her husband returned every four to five hours to nurse the new baby.
“We made the best of it for the next 36 hours,” Kent said. “It was tough.”
Houston Fire Capt. Gilbert Bennett said the rules are intended to ensure that firefighters don’t gain an unfair advantage by learning about the exam from test-takers, then taking it later.
But Bennett said the fire department would likely evaluate the regulation. “By all means, we want what is best for the child and the mom,” he said.
Terese Floren, executive director of Women in the Fire Service Inc., acknowledged that the fire department was probably powerless because of the law, but said women shouldn’t be forced to choose between having a family and a career.
‘They could have sent a proctor’
Kent, who has worked for the Houston Fire Department for 12 years, opted to take the test because missing it would have meant waiting at least two years before the next promotion exam.
But, she said, the department should accommodate those with legitimate medical excuses.
“The law said that they didn’t have to, but they could have sent a proctor,” Kent said. “The test is in a sealed envelope. It shouldn’t have been a problem.”