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CEMA Chief Tom Sampson announces his retirement

The face of Calgary’s COVID-19 public health emergency response, Chief Tom Sampson, has announced his retirement.

Sampson, Chief of Calgary’s Emergency Management Agency (CEMA), made the announcement Wednesday. He did so in front of the city’s emergency operations centre, a location he helped develop starting in 2009.

He said he typically starts these conferences telling people what they can and what they can’t do.

“Today, I’m telling you what I’m going to do for myself,” he said.

“There are two great loves in my life. My family and serving my city.”

Sampson said he originally planned to retire more than five months ago. Then the COVID-19 pandemic hit and he stayed to ensure the emergency management plan was initiated. His retirement date was going to be Oct. 30. He was asked to stay an additional month during the transition.

“I don’t think that you can have the commitment and the passion for this job without feeling it when you finally decide to walk away,” Chief Sampson told reporters.

He said the city hopes to have someone in place by Nov. 30.

“I know that we have qualified candidates ready to go,” he said.

“They’re smarter than me – I told you that before. They’re better than me. They’re faster than me. We’re in good shape. Calgary, you’re in excellent hands.”

Chief Sampson’s career in Calgary

Chief Sampson has been with the City of Calgary for 35 years, having several senior roles within the city. He organized the city’s deployment of emergency services to major Alberta disasters: The Slave Lake fires in 2011, the 2013 Calgary floods and the 2016 wildfires in Fort McMurray.

His career began in Emergency Medical Services (EMS). Chief Sampson’s 22-years in EMS included 11-years with the then-City of Calgary EMS as its chief.

Chief Sampson spent time as the Executive Officer of the Calgary fire department before returning to the Calgary Emergency Management Agency as its chief in 2015.

Most recently, Chief Sampson has been the public face of Calgary’s COVID-19 public emergency response.

COVID-19 response Chief Sampson’s final CEMA event

His fatherly charm and penchant for storytelling to help explain the importance of adhering to the COVID-19 public health measures have endeared him to many during the pandemic.

Chief Sampson regularly took to Twitter with video updates to keep people informed.

Chief Sampson’s firm-but-forgiving approach focused on education before enforcement. There was the understanding that if rules were broken, violators would face consequences.

He said they’ve been working for weeks, planning for a potential transition amid a pandemic.

“We’re ready for that second wave it’s just unfortunate we have to go there,” he said.

For Calgary mayor Naheed Nenshi, the news is bittersweet.

“The news of Chief Sampson’s retirement really brings up a lot of emotions,” the mayor said.

“While I’m going to miss him immensely, and his departure makes me personally sad, I am very excited for him to move into a well-deserved retirement.”

Mayor Nenshi praised the commitment Chief Sampson had to the safety of Calgarians.

“This is a great loss for our city, but I know that the legacy of professionalism and compassion he has shown will forever inspire future CEMA chiefs and all public servants,” the mayor said.