MIKE CHITWOOD was a rookie cop fresh out of the Police Academy on Nov. 7, 1964, when he was walking a beat on Susquehanna Avenue in North Philadelphia with a seasoned officer who was teaching him the ropes.
Chitwood - who went on to become a much-honored Philly cop and is now the police superintendent of Upper Darby Township - and his partner, Mike Muto, might not have been prepared for heroics that day, but that's what they got.
On the 1600 block, they saw flames shooting out of a house and a woman with a baby hanging onto a rope between the second and third floors, calling for help.
Yelling to the woman to hang on to the baby, the officers ran into the burning house and up the stairs, choking on dense smoke.
They got into a front bedroom and Chitwood climbed out of a window with Muto holding him by his belt and one leg. He grabbed the 7-month-old baby girl and handed her to Muto, who took her to safety. Firefighters put up a ladder and brought the woman down.
Both men received commendations for heroism.
Chitwood remembers that day quite clearly and how grateful he was to Mike Muto for the lessons he got from the older officer on how to be a good cop.
Michael C. Muto, a 19-year Philly cop who later became a lieutenant on the police force at the Coatesville Veterans Administration Hospital, a devoted family man and Italian cook known for his spaghetti gravy, died of cancer May 4. He was 86 and lived in Coatesville.
"He was very street-smart," Chitwood said of Muto. "Everybody knew him, like he had been born and raised on Susquehanna Avenue. I always thought of him as Popeye, rugged but gentle. Everybody called him 'Mr. Mike.' "
In his youth, Mike was a heavyweight champ in Golden Gloves, Silver Gloves and Diamond Belt. A Daily News story related how he knocked out one opponent in 51 seconds with "swift sequences of a stunning right hand."
Mike was born in Philadelphia to Frank and Agnes Muto. He attended South Philadelphia High School, where he was a standout football player. He entered the police force in 1955.
He and Chitwood were working out of the 22nd District at 17th Street and Montgomery Avenue at the time of the fire rescue. It was a challenging time to be a cop in Philadelphia with devastating riots racking the city and teenage gangs battling one another.
After leaving the police force, Mike moved to Coatesville and the veterans' hospital, from which he retired.
Mike married the former Rose Marie Petuski in 1970. She died in 2006.
The couple loved to travel and made several trips to Italy. They also enjoyed Caribbean cruises and trips to Mexico and other destinations.
Mike was a handyman - "always fixing things," said his daughter, Michelle Begley. "He was a big family man, everything was about family."
He was proud of his vegetable garden, including the fat tomatoes he raised for his spaghetti gravy. He would keep it in the freezer and serve it every Sunday to what was usually a large family gathering.
Mike also was known for his fig trees.
After his wife died, Mike became active with the Downingtown Senior Center, where his ebullient personality made him a popular guest.
He helped organize many events, including Texas Hold'em poker tournaments, with donated prizes for the winners.
"The senior center gave him a purpose and enjoyment," Michelle said.
Besides his daughter, he is survived by five sons, Thomas, Anthony and Richard Massi and Michael R. and Daniel G. Muto; three other daughters, Anna Marie Massi, Frances Massi and Rose Marie Russell; a brother, Frank X. Muto; two sisters, Isabelle Caruso and Marquerite Valentino; 16 grandchildren and 12 great-grandchildren.
Services: Funeral Mass 11:30 a.m. Friday at Our Lady of Consolation Church, 603 W. 2nd Ave., Parkesburg, Pa. Friends may call at 7 p.m. Thursday at the D'Anjolell Memorial Home of Broomall, 2811 West Chester Pike, and 10 a.m. Friday at the church. Burial will be at St. Agnes Cemetery, West Chester.
In lieu of flowers, donations may be made to the Downingtown Senior Center, 9832 Lancaster Ave., Condo 3A, Dowingtown, Pa. 19335.