After a 35-year career in handling public emergencies, Tom Sampson, the chief of the Calgary Emergency Management Agency (CEMA), is retiring.
Sampson’s career spanned time in EMS, the Calgary Fire Department (CFD), and finally CEMA.
Sampson announced his retirement at a press conference Wednesday before leaving for B.C. to provide medical care for his sister and brother-in-law.
“Retiring during the pandemic — tough decision,” Sampson said. “Quite honestly, I was going to leave earlier and I’ve pushed that off. And actually yesterday I agreed to stay another month to ensure the appropriate transition to the new chief of CEMA.”
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Sampson said his original intent was to see the city out of its state of local emergency, but decided to stay on for an extra month. The process to find his replacement will get underway soon.
“It’s no secret I’ve been training individuals within this place to replace me.”
“I maintain they’re better than me right now. They’re more educated than me. They’re ready to go.”
“I will assist with onboarding that individual [who replaces me] and ensure that they’re up to speed,” Sampson said. “And even when I leave, you never leave these jobs. I will always be just a phone call away.”
Sampson was appointed CEMA chief in 2015 when the agency separated from the CFD. He joined CEMA in 2009 to help create the city’s Emergency Operations Centre and provided leadership during catastrophic events like the 2011 Slave Lake wildfires, the 2013 floods and the 2016 Fort McMurray wildfires.
“No matter the challenge, Chief Sampson has risen to the occasion, putting the needs of Calgarians first,” Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi said in a statement. “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 City of Calgary has been blessed to have him at the helm of the Calgary Emergency Management Agency, providing incredible leadership through a long list of crises, not the least of which includes the 2013 flood and our recent battle against the COVID-19 pandemic.
— Naheed Nenshi (@nenshi) October 7, 2020
A formally-trained paramedic, Sampson spent 22 years of his career with the city in Calgary EMS, including more than a decade as chief of Calgary EMS.
“Way back when we brought in a medical priority dispatch system, when I was chief of the EMS, that allowed us to actually have instant care provided to patients when they were sick — the dispatchers would provide that care immediately,” Sampson said. “Medical priority dispatch went on to become the standard.”
Sampson said his departure from CEMA during the coronavirus pandemic won’t leave the agency empty-handed in dealing with a potential second wave.
“We looked at all the critical infrastructure in this city,” the CEMA chief said. “We talked to it on a daily basis and we understood what they were raw on, what they needed help with. And we were able to backfill those supplies.”
“We’ve taken all that work [and] it’s all boxed. We’re ready for that second wave and we will be strong in it.”
The CEMA chief said the variety of responses to public health guidelines during this pandemic has been particularly challenging for him and the agency.
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“This COVID-19 thing has been very difficult because there’s so many times that you sort of say, ‘If we could just get it. If we could just get the simple pieces of staying that two meters apart. If doing things outside like this [outdoors press conference], which are 18 to 20 times safer than going indoors. If we could just compromise our lives a bit, we would have a whole different result,’” he said.
Sampson said there’s one last piece of work he wishes he could have completed — driving down billions of dollars in costs of damages during natural disasters.
Read more: Nenshi exploring disaster relief funding as Calgary cleans up after severe storm
“I want to understand that and I want to understand how we can drive it down,” he said. “What is it? What are all the pieces?”
The mayor said seeing the man he worked closely with during the 2013 floods and during this pandemic retire brings up emotions for him.
“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,” Nenshi said.
“First on my agenda — I want to lose my COVID 25,” Sampson said, referring to weight gained during the pandemic. “This is new for me and I’ve got to take it off again. You’ll see me in some safe area trying to run some more.”