SAN JOSE -- Already heavily fined for consistently showing up late to 911 medical calls, the San Jose Fire Department said Wednesday that its response times for other types of emergencies are also too slow -- and that the problem is getting worse.

Interim fire Chief Ruben Torres says the department for the year ending in June responded on time to about 72 percent of all emergencies -- from structure and vehicle fires to heart attacks and creek rescues. The city's goal is 80 percent.

What's more, from July to March, the on-time response rate dropped to 65 percent.

The figures mean the department is sending out engines with flashing lights and sirens and arriving to the scene late -- taking more than 8 minutes from the initial call -- two to three times each hour, on average.

"We're not satisfied. We want to do better, we strive to do better," said Capt. Cleo Doss. But with the number of calls on the rise and firefighter staff down, "we can only do what we can with what we have." He noted some neighborhoods in the city have one fire station despite being the size of entire nearby cities that have 10 or more stations.

In January, the Fire Department acknowledged it had failed to meet Santa Clara County's response-time targets for medical calls for 14 straight months, even though no other department in the county had missed the mark for even one month. The county pulled $2.1 million in annual funds from San Jose -- the equivalent of the cost to keep one fire station open for a year -- for missing the standards.

The new figures show not just the department's problems responding to 50,000 annual medical 911 calls but also its struggles in getting to all 77,000 emergency incidents throughout the city.

The county and city measure response times differently, so the two sets of figures are not comparable. But in either case, the city missed its targets.

The department's analysis found that dispatch and "turnout" times for crews to get ready and leave the station weren't the problem. Neither was traffic -- the responses actually slowed when there were fewer cars on the road.

It was the travel distance to emergencies that slowed the responses. Crews failed to meet the four-minute travel time goal more than half the time, often because they had to drive across town to fill in for stations that were already busy. In recent years the department dealt with budget cuts by deploying fewer engines, only to see an increase in the number of emergencies it responds to, Torres said.

City officials, who say they do not have the money to pay for more firefighters, say the solution is simple: They should require fewer firefighters to respond on trucks to medical emergencies, like in smaller Silicon Valley cities, instead of San Jose's long-standing standard response of four crew members per engine.

"Obviously we're not meeting our residents' needs," said Councilman Sam Liccardo, one of the council members pushing the staffing change. "They deserve a deployment model that is going to ensure that help will be there when they reasonably expect it to be there."

But firefighters say the solution is more staff and write off the proposed changes as campaign-season gimmicks.

"This report clearly demonstrates that in order to dramatically improve response times, San Jose needs more stations, more engines and more firefighters," said firefighter union President Joel Phelan.

The report lays out its own recommendations for improving response times. Those include better city traffic light technology to allow responding fire engines to avoid red lights; installing a GPS program to ensure firetrucks that are returning from service can be called to close-by emergencies; and simply cracking down on firefighters to move faster.

"It's clear the city is finally engaged in the kind of problem-solving it's going to take to improve these numbers," said county Supervisor Joe Simitian, who first sounded the alarm bells on the poor response times. "Even a modest improvement involves hundreds if not thousands of calls where someone will be on time for that life-or-death call that right now the city is missing."

Contact Mike Rosenberg at 408-920-5705. Follow him at Twitter.com/rosenbergmerc.