Last Friday, Chris Oeuvray was appointed head of the Cantonal Civil Defence Corps, the first time a woman has been appointed head of the organisation.
The 52-year-old, and her colleague Anna Maria Scherer (on the right in the same photograph), are both members of the Care Team Unit, which looks after those who may not have been injured in a road traffic accident, for example, but who have been affected by what has happened.
In cases where someone may have been seriously injured or died as the result of an accident, it is the job of the police to inform the next of kin, after which the care team takes over, helping them to come to terms with what has happened.
The care team, which comes under the direction of the Cantonal Civil Defence Corps, is actually made up of some 20 members, who are called out some 30 times a year.
Oeuvray has been a member of the Care team for ten years now, providing psychological help in exceptional cases where people need it, in situations when they just do not know where to turn.
Naturally those who are given support are not charged, but those who provide care are insured and receive an honorarium. They are trained and efforts are made to ensure others get involved in this way in the future, too.
As mentioned, Oeuvray and Scherer were both recently promoted to officers within the organisation at a ceremony in Sempach in the canton of Lucerne. Other women, too, are encouraged to join, foreign women, too, not just Swiss ones.
Oeuvray herself is very much involved in providing care professionally, too, having set up a life-counselling and mental- training advisory business in 2001, having previously worked in finance. After working in this latter sector, she took some time out and went to the Mexican island of Cozumel as a diving instructress for two years, coming into contact with people who initially had a fear of being under water. However, Oeuvrey was able to convince them all would be all right and enjoyed seeing them beaming after their successfully having dived.
On returning to Switzerland she noticed how she had the ability to remain calm when chaos reigned, making use of this skill when she joined the Care Team of Central Switzerland. “I am not really one for giving money; but I will willingly give my time,” she said, having noticed, too, that many people in her teams have themselves been though some trying times. If called out by the police they wear normal clothing, but if they are called out to a major incident, they wear blue vests. As to what she carries in her bag, the contents include tissues, a bottle of water, a leaflet about emotional reactions, and, where young children are involved, soft toys and crayons. “Of course, we come across a huge range of emotions when we arrive; we just have to let the people involved give vent to them,” she explained. Of note, too, is that members go out in pairs, to give each other support, if need be.
“And what happens when the time comes for members of the care team have to leave?” asked Stephan Santschi, who wrote this article. The family and friends of the affected are contacted to take over. Only when it is clear people need additional help is an appointment with a doctor sought. As a rule, after a period of 48 hours, the carers’ work is done, though contact is made after 30 days to see how things are. It is on such occasions that 80 to 90 per cent of people say how glad they were to have received such help in their time of need.
Not that team members are unaffected by what they have been involved with. “In my case, I come home, have a shower and change my clothes. Fortunately, I have a loving family around me. What I have experienced stays with me for two or three days, but then I am all right again.”