The Duke of Cambridge made an unannounced visit to Belfast on Wednesday to mark Emergency Services Day and celebrate the work of emergency responders.
His first stop was to visit with police, fire, ambulance and other emergency responders at the Police Service of Northern Ireland’s Garnerville Academy. There, he met with the chiefs of each department, met PTSD service dogs and also joined in a support programme meeting.
Speaking about his own mental health while working as an Air Ambulance Pilot with the East Anglian Air Ambulance, William said: “I couldn’t put my finger on it, but you just felt very sad. For me it was the sadness, I really felt the sadness, I’d absorb the jobs I’d gone to. Sadly, with the Air Ambulance, you get a lot of deaths and I didn’t realise (the impact). I would go to the next one and the next one.”
On the PSNI’s Facebook page, they wrote about William’s visit, saying, “On Emergency Services Day, we were delighted to welcome the Duke of Cambridge to our Police College to give him an insight to the Police Service of Northern Ireland’s bespoke emergency services peer support programme.
“The course trains Wellbeing Volunteers to be able to support colleagues suffering from mental health issues by using shared lived experiences and having an understanding of the challenges of working in an emergency response service. Officers and staff involved in the training both enjoyed and appreciated the visit and the acknowledgement of the often difficult roles they undertake when serving our community.”
In a speech at the academy, William thanked first responders for their dedication, especially during the ongoing pandemic.
“This has already been an extraordinary year. The months ahead will no doubt be uncertain and at points scary. But, thanks to the dedication and sacrifice of those of you working across the emergency services and in the NHS, I count myself and others in this country very fortunate.
“Your dedication is not only apparent when we are faced with a global pandemic. Each and every day, people from teams across the blue light community are called to the scenes of dreadful incidents.”
He continued: “But as you care for us in our time of need, so too must we ensure that we are there for you when you need it the most. We must ensure that you have the right support in place each and every day.
“I know first hand, that even in routine circumstances, those of you on the front line can face immense challenges that can naturally have a significant impact on both your physical and mental health.
“Firstly, it’s important that we recognise that. And secondly, it’s important that we do all we can to support you through it.”
He told the assembled guests how he and Kate, who visited Belfast earlier this year, were impressed by the first responders they’d met during their visit. “We were struck then, as I am now, by your steadfast commitment to helping others.
“You are a testament to the blue light community across our country, and I can’t thank you enough for what you do.
“At one point or another, each and every one of us will meet you or one of your colleagues, speak to you, be comforted by you and benefit from the care and protection you provide.
“Given what we ask of you, we must do all we can to look out for you, and to help you to look out for each other.”
Later, Prince William joined in a search and rescue demonstration at Cave Hill Country Park and met with members of the Northern Ireland Community Rescue Service. After the demonstration, he spoke with the team and told them, “You’re the ambassadors for the community, thank you so much. You are the foundations of the community, you are the backbone of that…that’s not to be sniffed at, that’s something very special.”
Speaking after the Duke’s visit to reporters, the CRS Director, Sean McCarry said: “Having someone as high profile as the duke come and visit us means a huge amount to our volunteers. We have around 300 and they don’t get paid. It gives us a boost that will last for many years to come. Our country needs a bit of a lift at the moment due to the pandemic and lockdown and these visits are so important.
Mr McCarry continued “he was very interested in how we look after our volunteers. The ethos is that the first thing is that they look after each other and themselves before they can look after others. He was on the same page as us, very interested and engaging on all those aspects.
“He has a huge interest in mental health, particularly those who work in emergency services. His interest lies in the well-being of the entire nation. He feels he can personally help and there’s evidence today that he’s personally involved in trying to support those who are caring for others.
“I said to him as he was leaving, you’re one of our family and he said he felt that. Leaders should do what’s right, not who’s right and he’s very much that type.
“He will make an excellent leader when the time comes.”
Ahead of his Belfast visit, the Duke of Cambridge convened the first meeting of the Emergency Responders Senior Leader Board on Tuesday. The board, according to the Association of Ambulances Chief Executives website “is the first of its kind, bringing together leaders from across all of the UK’s emergency services on the issue of mental health” to promote “collaborative working across the nation’s emergency services to ensure that all emergency responders receive the mental health support they need.”
The Emergency Responders Senior Leader Board was formed as a result of a 2018 research project commissioned by The Royal Foundation of The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge that focused on how to promote and protect the mental health and wellbeing of emergency responders in the United Kingdom.