PHILLIPS — Officials are not sure how a fake pipe bomb used as a training device that was found this week remained undetected under an SAD 58 elementary reserve school bus for at least four years.

Phillips Elementary School was canceled before students arrived Tuesday while the Maine State Police bomb squad investigated the device, which was spotted hanging from the undercarriage of the bus by a bus driver around 6 a.m., according to Sgt. Ken Grimes of the state Fire Marshal’s Office.

Grimes said the training aid was attached to the bus at least four years ago during a Maine Association for Pupil Transportation session, which the bus drivers participate in on a yearly basis. The transportation association is a statewide non-profit group that provides education and safety programs for commercial drivers.

The device was part of an exercise to train drivers on how to recognize a suspicious device while performing a mandatory pretrip or posttrip inspection, both of which are required for every trip.

David Leavitt, president-elect of the transportation group, said the fact the device wasn’t found for four years is a concern. Leavitt, also Mt. Blue school district support services director of the transportation group, said the incident will be a learning experience for bus drivers, who may at times not be as vigilant as they should during inspections.

Leavitt said the device, which was five PVC pipes 8 or 10 inches long glued and duct-taped together, was tucked away near the bus fuel tank. The device was well hidden, he said, and a driver would have to be underneath the bus to find it.

He said training personnel now catalogue the pipe bomb training devices to make sure they are all accounted for, but didn’t when that device was hooked up. He said he was not with association at the time and does not know how it was overlooked. He also said he was also not sure how it was never found during state-mandated vehicle inspections.

The duct tape and magnets that held the device in place likely deteriorated over the years and caused it to hang low enough to be in view, Leavitt. The device was spotted by a bus driver performing a pretrip inspection on a different nearby bus.

Leavitt said the driver who spotted the device used his training when he recognized it as something that was possibly dangerous and alerted public safety officials.

Finding the device was effectively a drill, he said, and showed the bus driver and the first responders worked well together and all knew what to do in the scenario.

Grimes said the bomb squad inspected the device and realized it was not an explosive. He said his office concluded its investigation after he determined it was a training aid. He said responders were at the school from around 6 to 10:30 a.m.

Along with the Fire Marshal’s Office, the state police bomb squad, state police explosive dog team, state police patrol troopers, the Franklin County sheriff’s deputies, Maine Emergency Management Association, Phillips Fire Department and NorthStar ambulance all responded to the incident.

Kaitlin Schroeder — 861-9252
[email protected]

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