In separate incidents yesterday, a D.C. firefighter who failed to salute a superior and two officials who placed an undermanned engine company out of service for more than a hour after granting emergency leave to a firefighter whose father had died, were placed on indefinite administrative leave with pay, fire department officials said.

About 8:30 a.m., firefighter Bill Chaklin of Olney was sent home after casually greeting Deputy Fire Chief James Tate at Engine Co. 9 on U Street NW instead of saluting him.

About 11 a.m., Lt. Doug Wheeler and Acting Battalion Chief John Mulligan of Engine Co. 1 at 23rd and M streets NW allowed a firefighter emergency leave after he received a telephone call that his father had died. Firefighters are entitled to emergency leave when there is a death in their family.

Though unrelated, the incidents triggered a temporary manpower shortage that underscored a conflict in interpretation of engine company rules between fire department officials and the firefighters who command the city's 33 firehouses.

Under the Firefighters Local 36 union contract, engine companies must have at least five firefighters or go out of service. While fire department managers "try to maintain five men on a truck company, there's no fire department regulation that says you put the truck company out of service if you don't have five men," Assistant Fire Chief Howard Dixon said last night.

When Chaklin was suspended yesterday, Dixon said, he was replaced from a standby pool. Dixon said the pool usually has about eight men, but could not say exactly how many men were left on standby yesterday.

After Wheeler allowed the Co. 1 firefighter leave, he placed the engine company, which is one of the busiest in the city, out of service while a replacement was found because there were only four men available. Later, Dixon ordered that Wheeler and Mulligan, Wheeler's supervisor, on indefinite administrative leave with pay for their action.

"His {Wheeler's} interpretation was that with less than five men you go out of service. My interpretation was that we replace that man immediately, which we did in an hour and four minutes," Dixon said. "Anytime you put an engine company out of service that is lessening the protection of the city. I was thinking of public safety."

But sources in the fire department said that management caused the manpower shortage that left Engine Co. 1 understaffed by sending home a firefighter for failure to salute. "That guy was tied in because we {already} sent a guy over to fill in" for Chaklin, leaving the company short-handed when the second firefighter was granted emergency leave, according to a firefighter from Engine Co. 1.

"It's stupid. An eighth of the city was left unprotected . . . because he didn't salute somebody like he was at West Point. That's what started it and it went downhill from there. I guess the other guy's father didn't die at the right time," the firefighter said.