DULUTH - When Lt. Jeff Johnson cleaned out his locker at the dilapidated Fire Station 7 on Ga. Highway 120, he didn't think about the dinners he shared with his fellow firefighters or the people he has encountered over the years.
He didn't think about the ghosts from the cemetery outside - the ones who slept in graves on eye level with the sleeping firefighters.
Instead, he just thought about the future, about the beautiful new station on Bunten Road that would mean better equipment, better health conditions and some room to spread out.
"I have been so excited about this new station," Johnson said, saying the only thing he will miss about the old location is the wildlife that would come up behind it.
The new station has a separate room for turnout gear and a climate-controlled weight room, both of which were in the old station's engine bays and would be covered with diesel exhaust whenever the fire engine or ambulance were turned on.
It has three times the square footage of the old station, a community room, a bunk room with individual compartments and a separate restroom for women firefighters.
Most importantly for the firefighters who think they should be chefs, it has a commercial-grade kitchen with double ovens.
"Everything was getting a little run down," Johnson said of the 30-year-old former station, where the problems even reached the kitchen sink.
"This is a palace, no doubt," driver engineer Mike Martin added.
While the new digs are much more comfortable for the crew, the new station also expands coverage to a growing area of Gwinnett featuring the Arena at Gwinnett Center, hotels and businesses and the Sugarloaf Country Club.
The new station features a new ladder truck - a 100-foot monster engine that will allow firefighters to tackle big fires in tall buildings.
On top of the arena coverage, the ladder truck is the second to arrive at incidents at Discover Mills and Gwinnett Place malls, Johnson said.
In its first week in service, the ladder truck was called to 25 incidents.
"I know we haven't slept much," the lieutenant said.
According to Capt. Thomas Rutledge, the spokesman for Gwinnett Fire and Emergency Services, the station's $2.75 million construction costs were 12 percent below the budget. And in keeping with the station's "lucky number seven" reputation, it was completed seven weeks early.
The ladder truck was another $828,000, paid for with county sales tax funds, and it caused the station's personnel to be increased from six per shift to 11 per shift.
"We hope people are proud of their station," Rutledge said.
Ed Gutknecht, a Duluth man, stopped by Monday to welcome the firefighters to the neighborhood and asked if his grandson could see the ladder truck.
"I think it's outstanding," he said of the new station.