PETERSBURG, Va. -- Tina Watkins is paving the path for Black women in firefighting.
Now the Petersburg Fire Chief, Tina Watkins said her dream of being on the front lines has consumed her heart since she was an eight-year-old girl and saw firefighters tackle an emergency in her Richmond home.
From that day on, she has shared her dream with others.
"I was around one of my neighbors at the time and I said, I want to be a firefighter one day. And she said oh no, you can't do that. I said what do you mean? She said that's not a job for women," Watkins said.
That comment fueled the fire inside of her even more. Thankful for support from her family, she was determined to one day serve her community as a firefighter.
Now, 22 years later and after a stint in the military, Watkins' dream came true when she applied to the Richmond Fire Department.
She said there were challenges from the beginning.
"There were only 58 of us who applied. Five passed the written test. Out of the five, I was the one that came out on top and went to the physical agility test and passed that," Watkins said.
Watkins became the second female hired within the Richmond Fire Department and would go on to serve for 34 years.
She eventually became that department's first-ever female fire officer which she credits to her hard work.
"I'm a lifelong learner and being a lifelong learner, I like going to school. Love learning new things so I persevered with continuing my education and that's how I got to be here," Watkins said.
When she got the job offer from the Petersburg Fire Department, she was brought to tears. She was overwhelmed by the outpouring of support that she received from her colleagues near and far when the announcement was made.
When she was sworn in, she made history in Petersburg as the first woman and first African American fire chief.
"It's a good feeling and because I'm a balanced person, I'm real humble with that achievement and I know how hard I had to work to get here. When I'm gone, my name still rings out for not only the Black community, but the community of women," Watkins said.
Watkins is paving the way for others to claim their seat at the leadership table. She hopes to set an example for young people in the community for years to come.
"You can do anything, especially my kids out here. The world is your oyster and you hold the pearl. You can do anything if you put your mind to it and your best foot forward," Watkins said.
Watkins knows that this is a huge task but she said that she is up for the challenge. She said that her faith in God keeps her grounded and she counts it as a blessing to be able to serve the people of Petersburg.