The Duke of Cambridge hailed search and rescue volunteers as the backbone of the community as he heard of their relentless efforts to find missing people.
William met members of Northern Ireland’s Community Rescue Service (CRS) on a visit to Cavehill Country Park in Belfast to mark Emergency Services Day.
The CRS responds to more than 400 missing person and emergency incidents every year, with members volunteering in excess of 90,000 hours of their time.
With Northern Ireland having particularly high suicide rates, the callouts often involve extremely harrowing and distressing circumstances.
The duke watched on as a group of CRS volunteers demonstrated how a missing person search is conducted.
CRS director Sean McCarry handed William a metal pole and showed him how to search through undergrowth.
“At night time it must be really difficult, to get through all the undergrowth?” the duke asked.
Mr McCarry told him: “We always tell people, be prepared about what you might find.”
His Royal Highness later spoke to the team members on how they cope with the mental health challenges created by such emotionally demanding work
“You’re the ambassadors for the community, thank you so much,” he told them.
“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.”
Earlier the duke was offered a ride on one of the CSR response vehicles. He politely declined.
“I’m always tempted to take one for a spin, but not today. Another day,” he said.
As he left, Mr McCarry presented William with a CRS jacket and cap personalised with HRH.
The CRS director told him he was part of the family.
“Thank you, I feel part of the family,” he replied.
Afterwards, Mr 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.
“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.”