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Suffolk County Department of Fire

Local firefighters extinguish the blaze at Tesla Science Center at Wardenclyffe on Tuesday, Nov. 21. Photo courtesy Tesla Science Center

By Samantha Rutt

A devastating fire broke out at the Tesla Science Center at Wardenclyffe on Tuesday evening, Nov. 21, causing significant damage to the historic building. Firefighters from 11 departments responded shortly before 5 p.m. to find the laboratory engulfed in flames.

The fire, still under investigation, was reported to have ignited again early Wednesday morning, causing extensive damage to the main building’s roof and interior. While no injuries were reported, losing this important historical site devastated the scientific community.

The Tesla Science Center said in a statement released on Thanksgiving, “We are thankful to the deputy fire coordinators at the Suffolk County Department of Fire, Rescue and Emergency Services — and to the fearless teams from the Brookhaven National Laboratory Fire Department [and all other responding departments]. Their relentless efforts to protect our community are a beacon of hope and strength.”

“The cause of the fire is still unknown,” science center representative Mark Grossman said. “It’s still under investigation, though they’ve ruled out arson. There’s no concern about it being a criminal offense — it was likely accidental. But they’re still in the investigation stage.”

The Tesla Science Center at Wardenclyffe was the last remaining laboratory of famed inventor Nikola Tesla. One of the most influential figures in the history of electricity, he conducted groundbreaking experiments at the site in the early 1900s.

The bones of the building, constructed in 1901, have been reported to appear intact. However, the full extent of the damage is yet to be determined.

“It brings a sense of relief to share that the structural integrity of the building dating back to 1901 seems to have withstood the ordeal,” Marc Alessi, executive director of the nonprofit, said in a statement. “This resilience is a testament to its original robust construction and durability.”

The site will be evaluated and assessed by the site engineer, historical architect and structural engineer, along with the Suffolk County Police Department, the Brookhaven Town fire marshal and the county’s Department of Fire, Rescue and Emergency Services, for damages in the coming days.

The center was undergoing renovation at the time of the fire. The renovations were intended to restore the building to its original condition and make it more accessible.

“There was a capital project that would be started shortly,” Grossman said. “We’re embarking on a $20 million renovation that would turn it into a true museum open to the public.”

In an interview, Grossman addressed fundraising efforts to raise money to repair what was damaged.

“There’s going to need to be an infusion of some donations to get things back to where they were,” he told TBR News Media. “It’s going to delay the capital project somewhat. I can’t tell you the exact amount of delay.”

The Tesla Science Center is a nonprofit organization that relies on donations from the public. In the wake of the fire, the organization has launched a fundraising campaign to help rebuild the laboratory.

The fire has sparked an outpouring of support from the community. Many people have expressed sadness at the science center’s loss and pledged their support for restoration efforts.

Amid the distressing news, Vladimir Božović, consul general for the Republic of Serbia and the consulate general team, pledged to provide “any necessary assistance” to the science center in the coming period.

The consulate’s statement further notes, “Our thoughts are with all those who hold deep respect and admiration for the invaluable work and dedication demonstrated by the Tesla Science Center in preserving the legacy of Nikola Tesla, a great Serbian-American inventor.”

Unsplash photo

Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone has announced the Suffolk County Department of Fire, Rescue and Emergency Services (FRES) and the Suffolk County Fire Academy will jointly host a Firefighters and EMS Recruitment Event on Saturday, July 16 from 8 a.m. to 1 p.m. at the Suffolk County Fire Academy located at 102 East Avenue in Yaphank.

The five-hour event will feature various vehicle demonstrations and on-site resources for potential future firefighters and emergency medical service members to become familiar with, including a live exercise that will simulate a train-vehicle incident and response. The Long Island Railroad, Brookhaven Fire Department and South County Ambulance will be participating in the demonstration.

Recruitment specialists from Suffolk County will be available to discuss the many benefits available to potential first responders. Representatives from the Air National Guard’s 106th Rescue Wing based in Westhampton Beach will also be in attendance for recruitment purposes.  

“In Suffolk County, we are committed to ensuring that our volunteer fire and EMS agencies have the necessary resources to operate and protect our residents. A key component of this includes recruitment. That is why our Department of Fire, Rescue and Emergency Services continues to engage with our departments and communities to provide these important events,” said Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone. “Last year’s inaugural event was a success as more than 125 residents signed up to become a first responder in their local community, and we look forward to achieving the same success this summer.”

“Recruitment and retention events continue to be essential for fire and EMS agencies as we need to continue to engage with our residents and educate those who are interested in becoming a first responder of all the tremendous benefits our local departments and volunteer organizations can provide,” said Suffolk County FRES Commissioner Patrick Beckley. “This summer’s open house will both be interactive and educational, and we encourage residents of all ages to attend.”

The event will also encompass a food drive component as Island Harvest will be on-site to accept non-perishable goods, including canned vegetables, sauces and soups, pasta, beans, rice, personal care and toiletry items and feminine hygiene products. Fire departments and attendees are all encouraged to participate and donate.

This summer’s open house event follows FRES’ first recruitment event in October 2021 where more than 125 prospective firefighters and EMS personnel signed up to become volunteer members with their local departments and agencies. The open house is part of Suffolk County’s comprehensive approach to first responder recruitment, including the Vets to Vollies Program that launched in April 2022.

Candidates who are interested in becoming a first responder, but are not able to attend the recruitment event can go to suffolksbravest.com/volunteernow.  All junior firefighters and educational groups are also invited to attend.

The Suffolk County Department of Fire, Rescue and Emergency Services (FRES) is committed to serving both the 1.5 million residents of Suffolk County and the more than 11,000 emergency responders who are dedicated to saving lives and protecting property.