Emergency response times for the Chula Vista Fire Department are the worst in the state of California, according to the Chula Vista firefighter's union.
Chula Vista is the second largest city in San Diego County, and the population size is only increasing. Union officials said it's been six years since the city has increased the number of firefighters to meet the needs of the community.
"It's the worst moment of their lives when they call 911 -- then for us to show up late, nine or 10 minutes into a cardiac arrest," said Darrell Roberts, President of Chula Vista Firefighters Local 2180. "Right now, there's nothing in the budget to increase our firefighting staffing and that's why we have an issue with it."
While there's funding available to build new fire stations, there's been no increase in the budget to fill those stations with firefighters, said union officials.
Roberts said it doesn't make sense for the city to keep developing and expanding its infrastructure without first addressing public safety concerns.
"Each year, we see a five to 10 percent increase in call volume and for us, it's troubling because we are not seeing that increase in staffing," Roberts told NBC 7.
When a house is on fire or emergency response crews are requested, every minute counts, said union officials.
Councilman Steve Padilla said the problem stems from an economic meltdown almost a decade ago -- and the continued struggle to fund the city's retirement and benefit plans.
"We are slowly recovering from some very difficult financial times -- we are constrained on the revenue side," said Padilla.
"I think the key here again is going to be getting everybody together focused on the problem, and what are our near-term, very short-term and long-term options, how can we effectuate that, and finance that," explained Padilla.
In Chula Vista, a citizen commission set the emergency response time goal to seven minutes. The average emergency response times for firefighters nationwide is just four minutes.
Union officials say that due to staffing shortages the fire department can't even make the seven-minute goal. They told NBC 7 that short-staffed emergency response crews are placing extra lives in danger.
Currently, there are 114 firefighters at nine stations in the city, that has a population of more than 265,000 people and still growing, according to the union.