Jacksonville’s first black female firefighter says being the 'first' was just as tough as actually fighting flames.

Glenda Hopkins began her firefighting journey 40 years ago. She was only 8-years-old when she faced a terrible tragedy that inspired her to become a firefighter.

“I lost a nephew to a house fire,” Hopkins said. “As a young child, it was so hurtful because I actually thought it was a doll, so when the doll was no longer there it really hurt me. From there I said, I really want to make sure no other child dies from a house fire.” 

Little did she know she’d make history for being the first African-American woman hired by the Jacksonville Fire and Rescue Department.

“It was a great accomplishment,” Hopkins said. She reached her childhood goal when she was 26 years old. As the only female with the title, she has faced many challenges.

“It was lonely, didn’t have a lot of people to talk to. Couldn’t confide in anybody,” Hopkins said.

She spent more than 27 years fighting flames. Although she says it’s an honor to be the first, she wants people to know that wasn’t the intent.

“When I came into the fire service, it was not any thought of me being the first. I just wanted a job,” Hopkins said. “If you put in the time, the determination, study hard and prepare, it’s left up to you. You can’t let other people tear you down. That was my story to them then, and that’s my story now." 

Hopkins retired 18 years ago and continues to inspire other across the nation. She hopes to see more women join the Jacksonville Fire and Rescue Department to show more diversity in a male dominated field.