The Lehighton Fire Department Monday night gave a PowerPoint presentation about the crowded conditions and safety deficiencies in the existing fire stations.

Apparently the presentation was effective.

The council unanimously agreed to borrow $1.75 million from the borough's capital reserve fund to match an anticipated grant which will let the present stations be enlarged and enjoined.

The money from the reserve fund will be repaid through a two-mill fire protection tax increase to be levied beginning in 2012.

"We need the fire station," said council member Michelle Ebbert, praising the volunteers for their commitment to the community despite the operating conditions, and giving her support to the $3.75 million project.

About 20 members of the fire department attended the meeting. The fire department is also contributing to the cost of the project.

The presentation on the current conditions was given by Steve Ebbert, both a fire company member and grant writer for the department.

Ebbert pointing out that the fire department has 55 members and only one bathroom.

He noted there is delay in response to emergencies because of the existing situations. Often members put on gear in Station 1 (Lehigh Fire Company No. 1 building) and then race to apparatus stored in Station 2 (the former Engine Company No. 2 building). To get to their gear, they must enter the front bay while apparatus might be exiting.

The bays have little clearance – at some points as little as four or five inches on either side of the doors.

Some apparatus must exit the side and rear doors of the stations, complicating the safety aspect and enduring going into a small alley where utility poles are located that are in the way of the maneuvering trucks.

Ebbert said the bay area of Station 2 holds the aerial truck, a pumper, and the wash gear, which is much larger than typical household washers and dryers.

He noted the rest of Station 2 has been converted by the borough into a police station, to which the fire department has no complaint. However, it has taken away bathroom facilities from the fire department in that building.

Of the overall scenario, Ebbert stressed, "This is not the safest or most efficient way to respond to a fire call or a call for help."

About $1.75 million of the project cost is coming from a government grant that has been approved.

Nicole Beckett, borough treasurer who assisted in the grant-writing process, said the council had to act on assisting with financing the project before its next meeting in August or it risks losing the grant.

The project includes the demolition of three residences located between the two fire stations. The Lehighton Fire Department has purchased those houses.

This property will be deeded to the borough, which owns the fire stations.

Beckett said conceptual plans have been drawn up for the station. The next phase of the project will be to have formal plans drawn up before advertising for construction can occur.

"Our goal is to provide the most efficient firefighting protection for the citizens of this community and surrounding communities," Ebbert told the council.

He said planning has been occurring for at least three years.

"We don't want a Taj Mahal or a White House," he added. "This is what we need."