The Roles of First Responders as Seen in Breakthrough

Contributor: Stefani Allegretti. Lesson ID: 13271

Are you brave? Do you stay calm and focused in emergency situations? Consider a career as a first responder! Learn the roles of these heroes through the true story in Breakthrough.


Finding a Career, Practical Life Skills

Life Skills
learning style
Auditory, Visual
personality style
Beaver, Golden Retriever
Grade Level
Middle School (6-8)
Lesson Type
Quick Query

Lesson Plan - Get It!

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First responders are everywhere!

  • Did you know that police officers, firefighters, emergency medical technicians (EMTs), and paramedics are all first responders?

All these brave men and women are trained to respond to different types of emergencies such as fires, terrorist attacks, a woman going into labor on a highway, and even rescuing a boy drowning in a freezing lake like in the movie Breakthrough.

In this lesson, look at the unique roles of each of these first responders through the lens of this incredible true story. Let's begin!

If you aren't familiar with the movie Breakthrough, it's based on a true story about a teenage boy named John Smith from Missouri who falls through the ice into a frozen lake while playing with friends.

One of John's friends gets out of the lake within a few minutes while first responders quickly rescue the other. However, John gets trapped under the ice for more than 15 minutes before he is rescued.

Watch a clip of the video below to hear the story.

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Before going any further, let's define first responders. A first responder is trained to respond to an emergency immediately.

In Breakthrough, the first to arrive at the scene to help John and his friends are police officers. They can slowly walk out onto the ice and pull John's partly submerged friend to safety.

Learn more about the role of a police officer.

police officer

Police officers protect people's lives, properties, and communities. They help those in distress and uphold the law. As a police officer, you develop an amazing skill set that includes CPR and first aid, firearms training, patrol strategies, and more.

For more information on the job of a police officer, check out this Occupational Outlook Handbook: Police and Detectives.

  • Curious about how to become a police officer?

Police officers study law enforcement at a police academy. Different states in the U.S. may have slightly different requirements for becoming a police officer.

Generally, you must be a citizen, at least 21, and have a high school diploma or GED. You must complete police academy training, various background investigations, and tests.

To learn more, check out this quick video.

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Alright! Let's move on to what happens next in the film Breakthrough. The next first responders to arrive at the scene are firefighters, followed by paramedics and EMTs.

The firefighters in this true story have underwater gear, so when they arrive at the scene, they go right into the icy waters using special tools to rescue John.

After searching for John unsuccessfully, one of the firefighters hears a voice in his head telling him to keep looking. He perseveres, eventually finds John, and pulls him up and out of the icy water.

Learn more about the role of a firefighter with the video below.

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Firefighters don't just fight fires or rescue victims from burning homes and buildings. They are also trained for rescue missions like the one in the film Breakthrough. In some states, firefighters are required to be trained as EMTs as well.

Firefighters should have a high school diploma, be at least 18, and complete a training program.

  • Interested in becoming a firefighter?

Read How to Become a Firefighter.

After John Smith is pulled from the ice, he has hypothermia and is unconscious. He is placed on a stretcher, and an emergency medical technician (EMT) or paramedic rushes out onto the ice to immediately provide John with CPR, specifically chest compressions.

The EMT/paramedic continues CPR as others carry John off the ice and provide him with an IV and other care before he is transferred into the ambulance and transported to the hospital.


EMTs and paramedics are another type of first responders. Their roles are similar in that they both provide emergency medical care to those in need, and they are both highly trained in CPR and first aid.

The difference between EMTs and paramedics is that paramedics are trained to provide more advanced medical care than EMTs. Learn more at How to Become a Paramedic/EMT: Paramedic Schools and EMT Training.

You've learned that there are different types of first responders, each requiring different types of training. However, all first responders are modern-day heroes bravely rushing into danger, rather than away from it, to help save lives.

Nice work in the Get It? section! Now, move to the Got It? section to see how much you remember about the roles of first responders.

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