Lehighton firefighters are a step closer to fulfilling a dream of having safer, more spacious, and more modern facilities.
Friday morning, announcement was made that the state will be releasing $1.75 million in Redevelopment Assistance Capital Program (RACP) funding for the construction of a fire house addition.
The main speakers at the event was Steve Ebbert, chairman of the fire department's building project committee
In attendance for the announcement, held in front of the Lehigh Fire Company No. 1 building on South Third Street in Lehighton, were State Senator John Yudichak, State Representative Doyle Heffley, Carbon County Commissioners Wayne Nothstein and Tom Gerhard, and Lehighton Borough Council members Grant Hunsicker, president; Scott Rehrig, vice president; Bessie Bauchspies, and John Bird.
Nicole Beckett, borough manager; Brenda Koons, borough secretary; and Bernard Mieczkowski, president of the Lehigh Fire Co. No. 1; looked on as former Speaker of the House Keith McCall was recognized for his role in securing the release of the (RACP) funds.
The project will provide an efficient and updated fire station by rehabilitating two older fire stations that are located within the same block. The project includes additional bays though an infill project. To make space for the project, three residential homes will be demolished which are located between the two older fire stations. The three homes have already been purchased.
Ebbert commended Mieczkowski for Lehigh Fire Company No. 1's role in the purchase of the two properties next to Lehigh Fire Co. No. 1. The third building was purchased by Lehighton Fire Department, and it has already been turned over to the borough, as will the other two homes within the near future.
According to Ebbert, the new fire station will increase the response time of the Lehighton Fire Department. This infill project will allow the fire department to provide the same level of service without any interruption during the construction.
"The structure will provide our firefighters with a safe working environment along with amenities for full time occupancy," commented Beckett. "The new fire station will not only provide new apparatus bays but will also include many areas for training for volunteer fire fighters."
In addition to the RACP funding, the Borough of Lehighton has allocated tax revenue toward the matching portion of the RACP grant. Lehighton taxpayers will pay an additional two mills for 12 years to serve as the needed matching grant.
Ebbert, obviously happy, recognized the many state and local officials for moving the project forward.
"We've been working on this project since 2008," said Ebbert. He added that there is a very active 15 member committee dedicated to bring this project forward.
Ebbert said that the location for the fire station was centrally located to provide rapid response to schools, hospitals and populated areas.
Beckett also welcomed everyone and thanked them for attending the announcement ceremony.
McCall commended the firefighters for their service to the community and said that while there was a tax increase, having a volunteer fire company saves residents in the long run from having to pay for fire company services.
"You'll do well," said McCall. "I am sure that John 'Jack' Kuller would be proud. This is a wonderful way to keep him in your memory as he watches over you."
Kuller, who was a fire chief and died unexpectedly last April 22, was devoted to the expansion project.
McCall said that as a former firefighter, he is aware of how important the role of a volunteer firefighter is to the community.
Rep. Heffley also commended Lehighton Fire Company for their volunteerism and service to the community.
"I know the hours that you put into the fire company," said Heffley. "You do a good job for the community."
Sen. Yudichak said that it was an honor to attend the ceremony.
"This fire station is necessary for everyone," said Yudichak. "I appreciate the volunteers who have done so much. Your services are appreciated."
Nothstein said that he was speaking as the senior member of the fire company and not as a county commissioner as he made his comments.
"I became a member of the fire department in 1969 and I moved up the ladder," said Nothstein. "I know that Jack would be proud and I am sorry that he is not here to see this milestone. I am sure that he is looking down on us with pride."
Ebbert said that the new fire station is needed because fire fighters have to operate between two buildings and some very tight quarters to provide services.
Lehighton Council members all had supportive words to say about Lehighton Fire Department.
"This was a nice day," said Beckett. "It was a happy day that was long overdue."