The New Milford Community Ambulance volunteers who provide emergency response services and help save lives—a challenge in Connecticut’s largest town with nearly 64 square miles—are true hometown heroes.
At its annual dinner March 11, the nonprofit ambulance group extended that distinguished status to an honorary member, attorney D. Randall DiBella, a partner with Cramer & Anderson, the interdisciplinary law firm serving western Connecticut with five offices in Litchfield and Fairfield counties.
A nominating committee chaired by community ambulance Board of Directors senior member George Buckbee selected DiBella to receive the Andy Armstrong Award, the organization’s highest honor, named after an ambulance corps founder who logged an impressive 65-plus years of service.
Armstrong, who died June 4, 2013 at the age of 86, had been president of the ambulance group for 36 years, and also served on the town’s Police Commission and in other roles as a community leader and volunteer, including with the American Red Cross and Rotary Club.
“I thought I was going to get a certificate of appreciation or something,” DiBella said after the annual dinner, held at the Candlewood Inn in Brookfield. “I had no idea I would get the Andy Armstrong Award. Andy Armstrong’s heroic. To be honored in his name, that’s a humbling thing to me.”
“Randy was obviously a unanimous choice. He’s been extremely helpful to us,” said Buckbee, a former town clerk in New Milford, who expressed appreciation for the legal work that DiBella has done for the community ambulance, much of it on a pro bono basis.
“He was very gracious with that,” said Buckbee, who presented the award with fellow nominating committee members Bill Zehrung, Ann Stone and Maureen Manwaring.
Testaments to the passionate local support for ambulance group, its commitment to excellence and the value of the selfless service by members and champions like DiBella come in several forms—including a new 2015 Ford F-450 Lifeline Ambulance that arrived last September, a new $3 million headquarters that opened in August 2010, and the close-knit camaraderie on display at the annual dinner.
The 10,000-square-foot headquarters on Scovill Street—near the former Century Brass plant—is named in honor of Armstrong, who retired from the ambulance corps in 2011 and was honored at the annual banquet in March of that year.
At this year’s dinner, which also honored volunteers who have achieved benchmarks for length of service, such as five and 10 years, and those who logged 100 or more calls last year, New Milford Community Ambulance President Donna Hespe said more than 2,000 calls were answered in 2015.
The event “was wonderful,” said DiBella, whose practice includes injury and civil litigation, areas that allow him to focus on protecting the legal rights of his clients, and municipal law, in which he helps towns navigate contracts, litigation and general government issues.
New Milford Mayor David Gronbach appointed DiBella and Cramer & Anderson partner John Tower as Town Attorneys at the start of his term on Dec. 1, 2015. DiBella has served as New Milford’s Town Attorney since December 2003, while Tower has served as an Assistant Town Attorney over the same period.
A graduate of Western Connecticut State College (B.A., 1975) and George Mason University School of Law (J.D., 1980), DiBella is known for providing conscientious, cost-effective counsel his clients, carried out with his trademark accessibility and friendly nature.
In honoring DiBella, New Milford Community Ambulance attempted to preserve the element of surprise, a strategy made difficult when the attorney’s family members showed up in force.
“I saw my daughter and looked over and said, ‘Shannon’s here,’” said DiBella, who attended with his wife, Sandy. Then more children arrived—in fact, all five children attended.
Seeing Shannon and his son David, along with Sandy’s children from her first marriage, Molly, Tim and Colin Dwyer, made DiBella suspicious. Even Shannon’s fiancé, Steve Nicholas, was there, along with Molly’s boyfriend Reid Heyniger—but that still didn’t manage to spoil the magnitude of the surprise, given the attorney’s assumption that he was being given a certificate of appreciation.
“It was a great thrill to have them all there,” said DiBella, who called receiving the Andy Armstrong Award “huge,” and added of the ambulance group, “I’m just so proud to be part of their family.”
D. Randall DiBella, who lives in Litchfield with his wife, is based in Cramer & Anderson’s New Milford office, located at 51 Main Street, and may be reached at (860) 355-2631.