The Lehighton Fire Department is utilizing three houses set for demolition before the structures are torn down. Those houses are located in the same block as the borough's fire stations.

Last night, the fire department held a joint training session with the Mahoning Valley Fire Company, using the 2 1/2 story structures to practice such things as roof ventilation, ladder techniques, human rescues, interior building entry, and basement fire containment.

The houses are located on South Third Street between the Lehigh Fire Company No. 1 building and the Lehighton Police Station. They are being torn down for a major fire company construction project. New bays, storage area, and office space will be built where the houses are currently located.

Steve Ebbert, building project chairman, said he expects the demolition to begin within the next two weeks.

The demolition of the houses will be done by Popple Services of Laflin, Luzerne County, at a bid price of $207,373.

About 30 firefighters from the two communities took part in last night's four-hour training program.

"We are utilizing the buildings that will be torn down for the expansion project and in-fill, for training with our neighboring fire department," said Captain Michael Mriss of the Lehighton Fire Department.

The joint training helps in various ways, especially in light of the fact that the two fire departments respond together on mutual aid calls for many fire calls including structure fires.

Teams of firefighters were sent to the roof of the condemned buildings using Lehighton's aerial truck. On the roof, Ebbert instructed younger firefighters to the proper ventilation cuts, noting that improper techniques can result in valuable time loss.

"We're cutting vent holes in the roof to simulate problems with smoke and heat," explained Mriss.

The captain noted that first floor operations inside the building were being done to simulate operations during a basement fire.

Meanwhile, on the side of the building, portable ladders were angled against the structure. Here firefighters not only practiced the proper ladder techniques, but also worked with dummies on rescuing fire victims from a simulated burning structure. This included removing "victims" through windows and guiding them down ladders to safety.

Mriss said he feels such training is important to the firefighters.

"It gives us the opportunity to practice things we do at a house fire," he said.

The fire company project is being made possible by a $1.75 million grant from the state's Redevelopment Assistance Capital Program.

Lehighton Borough Manager Nicole Beckett said the project "will provide efficient and updated fire station by rehabilitating the two older fire stations that are located within the same block."

By demolishing three residential homes, that were purchased by the Lehighton Fire Department, additional bays will be added through an infill project. This infill project will connect the two older stations, allowing all fire department apparatus to be housed in one common building.

Ebbert had stated that the new fire station will greatly increase the response time of the Lehighton Fire Department and will provide firefighters with a safer working environment.

Meanwhile, in other developments regarding the building project, the Lehighton Zoning Hearing Board will meet at 7 p.m. on Thursday to determine if the fire company can obtain a variance from zoning regulations regarding the height of the building.

Also, the council will open bids for the construction of the new fire station on Aug. 7.