A former Lexington fire truck is spending its retirement playing the role of “fire truck” in films and television shows.
The 1996 model 75-foot Smeal Aerial has appeared on the big screen in “The A-Team” and “Life on the Line” and on network TV shows such as “Supernatural,” “Arrow” and “The Flash.”
Matthew Olmstead, an eagle-eyed Lexington firefighter, recognized “Unit #F96” on the most recent episode of “The Flash” as the same truck he rode from 2007 to 2008.
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Before a Canadian production company changed its name to “Unit# F96” the truck went by the name “Ladder 5” for the Lexington Fire Department.
The department sold old Ladder 5 to Ian Thompson, owner of 911 Filmcars Inc., for about $22,000 in 2009.
Based in Vancouver, Canada, 911 Filmcars Inc. is a production company that provides emergency vehicles and consultants to movie sets. As a “vehicle wrangler,” Thompson “mixes and matches” his fleet and sometimes even firefighters who help make scenes believable.
“There’s a certain walk that firefighters have that no one else can duplicate,” he said.
Vancouver is a growing spot for Hollywood studios to film, in part because of the devaluing of the Canadian dollar, Thompson said.
The old Ladder 5 can and has been “dressed” for productions — sometimes it wears The Flash’s Central City door decals — so Thompson said you’d have to really know what you’re looking for to recognize the truck.
Olmstead said he’s seen the truck before and smiles every time it has made an appearance.
In 2014, a fire department Facebook post about a TV appearance lovingly refers to the truck as a “movie star.” Another comment points out a flag decal that’s still present on the back of the truck that was placed by the department after 9/11.
Interim Lexington Fire Chief Harold Hoskins said he “went out and rented” a copy of “The A-Team” when he started hearing about Ladder 5’s stardom.
Hoskins said he wishes he could put all of the former trucks in a museum with information about their history and runs.
“There’s a bit of Lexington history in that fire truck,” Hoskins said.
After “at least 12 years,” Hoskins said retired trucks get put into the reserve fleet and eventually end up being sold off, mostly to smaller departments.
Most but not all. One ended up on television.